Celebrate your community’s super heroes

superheroSMNora Begoray, EFCL Marketing Director

April 7, 2019 – Sometimes as a society, we look for heroes. Mabel and Spiderman championing the cause of the Cancer Society, our Edmonton men walking in High Heels to shine a light on Domestic Violence for the YWCA, and we are so amazed by their efforts – they inspire us to move mountains.

When it comes to communities, we might think that we need heroes to help our communities be strong, but our heroes might live closer to you than you think!  Consider these wise words published recently by the Tamarack Institute.  The EFCL is supporting their Deepening Community Conference at Concordia University June 7-9.

They say:

“The heroic approach to community assumes that the community itself is somehow inadequate and in need of rescue. But the truth is, every community, no matter its state, has possibility. Every community member, no matter who, has something to offer. When we, as a community, discover our own super strengths we build a resiliency that stands up to some of our toughest challenges. It is possible to be our own superheroes.”

Our own local initiative here in Edmonton that is supported by Edmonton community leagues and the City of Edmonton – The Abundant Community Initiative – finds our superheroes in Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). Christie Nash from Tamarack describes this as

“…an approach to community building that asks the question ‘Where is the beauty?’ ABCD mobilizes community growth and social change, not by focusing on needs, but rather on assets – it is about empowering people to discover and utilize, the gifts that already exist within themselves and their community. It is about finding your superpowers.”

The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues is the support organization for the 157 independent community leagues in Edmonton that each have hundreds of volunteers. Local super heroes that each day, are honing their skills to govern and steward their neighbourhoods through building a playground for their local residents, or advocating for safer streets (40k speed limit initiative), building community gardens, creating fun programs to keep their kids and youth engaged, or their seniors active and fit – all while encouraging connection with families, residents and neighbours.

At EFCL, it is our mission to help our leagues in their important work as Local Heroes.

Do you know a local neighbourhood hero? If you would like to send your local superhero to this upcoming conference, check out  #nbrhdhero contest details  and nominate them by May 1.


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League worth saving

By BARB MARTOWSKI, EFCL Communications Director

March 23, 2016 – Sometimes you just need a little help from your friends, or in this case, your fellow leagues.

On Saturday, March 12, roughly 30 volunteers from the EFCL and various community leagues descended on the community of Londonderry in Edmonton’s northeastern corner to do a door-to-door membership sales blitz in an effort to save the community league. Or to at least help jump-start it again.

The volunteers came from community leagues across the city, including McLeod, Steele Heights, Northmount, Oak Hills, Evansdale, Fulton Place, Aspen Gardens, Glenwood, Grandview Heights, Highlands, Parkallen, Woodvale, Ritchie, Downtown Edmonton and Strathcona Centre. The mission was simple – sell memberships and rally the community into attending a meeting to hopefully create a new board that could once again bring the neighbourhood together through a shared purpose of building a better community for all.

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Volunteers showed up at Londonderry Hall early to grab a coffee and a identifying pinne before heading out the door.

At day’s end, roughly 89 memberships were sold in the blitz – more than enough to cover the 25 needed to hold a general meeting. Several others were purchased online and thanks to media coverage (both social and traditional), interest is continuing to build with Londonderry residents reaching out to the EFCL – all wanting to know how they can get involved.

Long before March 12

The story of Londonderry isn’t just about this one day – it came to the attention of the EFCL in early 2015, but the circumstances that brought Londonderry community league to its present position had been going on for some time. Londonderry Hall is the largest community league hall in the city, which means it also has the largest operating costs, and takes the most effort to run. The league simply found itself in a position of no longer being able to pay its bills, let alone run community programs. Both the city and the EFCL stepped in to help cover costs, and in May 2015, the EFCL took over the management of the hall.

Working together, both the city and the EFCL worked hard over the last 12 months to raise awareness in the community of the situation and that the neighbourhood stood to lose its hall. Open houses were held, information mailed out to all residents, but nothing seemed to work … until the door-to-door blitz which was to be the last ditch effort of the EFCL.

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L-R Volunteers Bev Zubot (Parkallen CL), Habib Fatmi (Woodvale CL) and Joanne Booth (Strathcona Centre CL) are ready to go door-to-door in Londonderry Mar.12.

The previous lack of response had several of the organizers and volunteers worried about whether or not it would work, but when volunteers started coming back to the hall with their six or seven sales, optimism started growing. There was and is genuine hope for the revival of the Londonderry community league. Conversations at the door gave great insight into the importance of staying engaged – whether it’s the league with the community or the community with the league.

Many of the residents wondered about the hall, some were curious about what happened to their league. Others didn’t even know there was a league and some freely admitted they bought family memberships in neighbouring communities because there was nothing happening in Londonderry.

Many were seniors who had been in the neighbourhood for more than 40 years, and had been on the board while they were raising their families. It didn’t stop them from buying a membership in support but they did hope that younger folks would take over and not let it die.

And that’s what was important to the volunteers – that people not only purchased a membership, but were willing to get involved, to volunteer and sit on the board.

Leagues run on community-minded volunteers

So how did Londonderry get to this stage and what’s to prevent other long-standing community leagues from following its path?

The answer can probably be traced to one major thing – leaving too much in the hands of too few.

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Dr. Rob Agostinis from Oak Hills CL in southwest Edmonton was just one of the many volunteers to go door-to-door during the Londonderry Membership Blitz on March 12.

Community leagues are about building strong, inclusive communities through programming and events, infrastructure development and civic engagement. They strive to provide the space and opportunity for neighbours to get to know each other, have fun and ultimately – support each other which strengthens the entire community. And who are they? They are community-minded volunteers and they’ve been doing this since 1917.

Like many non-profit boards and without intention, it can come down to the same few doing everything. They get tired out, but struggle to keep things afloat and that’s where things deteriorate and it becomes a vicious circle: no volunteers – no programs – no programs – no participation – no participation – no volunteers.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened to a league before. In 1980, Jasper Park sent out a special newsletter with the heading, “Jasper Park Community League, Died 1980” and went on to outline the consequences to the community if it closed its doors. In 1946, 100 kids rallied and marched through the Ritchie community carrying placards and demanding that the adults get back into the business of building a strong community by volunteering on the board. These are just a few of the more colourful ways leagues have been saved, but the reason was/is still the same – volunteer burnout.

Annual general meetings are right around the corner

Today there are 157 community leagues in Edmonton, and April, May and June are the prime general meeting months – the months when some board members will be stepping down and hopefully new members will take their place.

Every one of these leagues will be putting the call out to their members and the community at large, asking for people to get involved with the league. They’re looking for board members and also general volunteers – volunteers who might like to lead a program, join a committee or help out at an event.

… maybe my neighbourhood needs something from me.”

And they are hoping for a full house of community league members on AGM night, so they can share with their members, news on the work they have been doing for the past year on behalf of the community.

Don’t let your community league reach the point that Londonderry found itself in.

If you have enjoyed even one the benefits that your community league has created, whether it’s attending the community BBQ or pub night, or your child is playing a community sport, take a page from Londonderry resident, Zekaryas Woldemariam who bought a membership on the 12th, and who so eloquently said it in his interview with the Edmonton Sun, “I want to participate with my neighbourhood … maybe my neighbourhood needs something from me.”

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A few of the volunteers who came out in support of Londonderry Community League. All of these volunteers came from other leagues across the city and they believe in the value of strong community leagues and what they can accomplish for their communities.

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Zamboni demonstration headlines Rink Operations workshop

By ALLAN BOLSTAD, EFCL executive director

January 5, 2016 – About 15 community league representatives got to see a Zamboni in action and take home a wide range of tips at the EFCL’s Rink Operations Workshop, held at Killarney Community League this past December.

According to rink manager Terry Baumgartner, Killarney got a steal of a deal on a used machine, picking it up for $26,000 – far less than the $121,000 that NAIT just spent on a new model where he works.  But like the machine at school, it is able to do a much better job of making ice than most rink workers can do with a hose. The simple reason is hot water freezes faster and makes for a much better seal, plus the machine is able to shave the bumps and lumps from the ice surface.

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On behalf of Killarney CL, Terry Baumgartner gave both a talk and a demonstration of the league’s Zamboni at the Rink Operations workshop hosted by the EFCL in December.

However, Terry was quick to point out the machine presents its own challenges. Not only does it require a storage shed with a good sized overhead door, but you need a removable section of rink boards in order to get the machine on and off the ice surface.  It also needs to be serviced regularly (the blades need sharpening every 20 hours) and that generally means a trip to the dealer, as it is requires someone who knows what they are doing.

Zambonis are also quite limited in the amount of snow they can remove.  At Killarney, Terry said he has to get out the snow blowers as soon as there is more than half an inch of the white stuff on the ground.

Pond hockey, skating parties and more

Guy Ambrosio from North Glenora described the pond hockey program that they ran last winter. Guy noted that his league bought 20 sets of equipment (sticks, skates, helmets and gloves) through a grant they obtained from Hockey Alberta.  Once the equipment was in place, they lined up four coaches to provide basic hockey school lessons once a week for kids of all ages; last year saw 23 beginners put on hockey skates for the very first time.  Each child was required to pay a fee of $50, which covered insurance and the registration fee charged by Hockey Alberta.

While on the topic of insurance, Barb Martowski from the EFCL told the group that their insurance policies would cover participants for any rink programs the league operated, but it would not for third party rental groups. Rinks are considered an extension of community halls and therefore renters need to provide their own event insurance. This not only protects the league, but also the third party event/program organizer.

This information came courtesy of Foster Park Brokers (the EFCL’s recommended supplier), who will be hosting a workshop at this year’s Leagues Alive Conference for Community Leagues on Feb. 6. Third party insurance policies, which can be obtained through Foster Park directly, will play a major topic in that workshop.

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Bonnie Doon’s Ian Gray talked about the league’s success with hosting multiple family socials during the season at the league’s rink, and the increase the league saw in the usage of the facility by the community. So much so, that the league is planning on building a new rink.

Ian Gray from Bonnie Doon Community League described how one family in their community started hosting informal rink parties each Sunday at the league facility.  This soon evolved to where the parties were hosted by a different block of neighbourhood residents each week, with skating games, bonfires and other family activities.  Donated equipment was made available to those that didn’t have any of their own and special invitations went to kids at the local Youth Emergency Shelter and area group homes.

Managing it all

Barb Busse from Britannia/Youngstown noted her league was also able to obtain a wide array of skates from Sports Central for all of those who didn’t have equipment, including children who just wanted to give skating a try.  Her league also developed a $5 pass for any individual who wanted to use the rink for the season.

She, along with Killarney’s Greg Turner also talked to the group about staffing, volunteers and a number of other issues that crop up with operating a rink. This lead to a lively discussion with everyone in the room sharing their own experiences and tips to make it work.

Cost estimates to build and staff a rink ranged from $8,000 – $15,000, depending on the hours of operation.  Many of the league reps said they generally paid $15-$20 per hour and kept the rink open each week night and all day Saturday and Sunday.  For the most part, leagues generally closed their rink when it hit 17 or 18 below zero, although some went as low as 20 below.

It was a very successful night and the EFCL is looking forward to hosting more workshops like this, where leagues can learn from each other.

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EFCL staffer finds workshop practical, useful and challenging

By LOIE UNWIN, EFCL board development officer

Oct. 7, 2015 – I had the pleasure of attending the Board Governance: Emergent Thinking 2015 Conference this past weekend. Put on by Board Leadership Edmonton, this event was designed to provide attendees an opportunity to learn about and discuss the latest thinking and practical tools to help boards and board members lead their organizations. Held at MacEwan University – Robbins Health Learning Centre, we were treated to a full day of very participatory sessions.

The highlight was the Keynote speaker, Ruth McCambridge, who is the Editor in Chief of the Non-profit Quarterly magazine and based in Boston. She brought her 45 years of experience to both her keynote and the session she delivered.  Ruth provided both practical solutions and thought provoking insight to her presentations.

EFCL,Board Leadership Edmonton,

Ruth McCambrige, editor in chief of Non-Profit Quarterly, was the keynote speaker at the Board Governance: Emergent Thinking 2015 conference held in October. (photo sourced)

Ruth’s morning session was about the Cycles of Board Leadership. She talked about the various stages of an organization – starting with the Founding or Founder stage. At this point there is enormous enthusiasm from a small group. Everyone is involved and active, focused on the vision and mission of the organization. The next stages of Directive and Delegation are shifts in the way the organizations operate and require the Board to adapt their way of leading. S spoke about boards having to be sophisticated enough to recognize how they are operating and avoid huge swings in style. The question I was left with is how do we, as board members, recognize and acknowledge the signs of potential dysfunction?

In the afternoon, I attended a session facilitated by Kristen Ward-Diaz, a community development officer with Alberta Culture and Tourism. I’ve had the pleasure of attending other sessions with Kristen and really enjoy her style. She had us up and moving and actually collaborating! There was nothing dry about her presentation – it was wonderfully practical. Collaboration on paper seems quite simple, but we were tasked with collaborating, to develop a plan, with two or three others – complete strangers to us. It was really challenging.

The conference gave me a chance to meet people from all kinds of organizations (including a community league by the way) and share challenges and successes. There were board members and staff from a variety of organizations, each with their own stories to tell and challenges they are facing. What we had in common was the desire to move our organizations forward effectively.

As a board member on two non-profits and in my role as board development director for the EFCL, this day was just the kind of learning I like. Practical, useful, interactive and challenging. This was a day well spent for all who attended and an exciting way to end my first week with EFCL.

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Happy City author and community leagues on same page

By NORA BEGORAY, EFCL Marketing Director

Oct. 5, 2015 – A big YES  to Charles Montgomery and his talk at Happy City: Your City, Your Life, a well-attended event held at MacEwan University. It was a lovely fall Oct. 1 evening in Edmonton, and everyone seemed to be in a very good mood.

Charles Montgomery, EFCL, Happy City, Edmonton NextGen, community leagues

EFCL’s marketing director (L), Nora Begoray and Bev Zubot, EFCL planning officer, chat to guest speaker and author, Charles Montgomery signs his book at the Happy City: Your City, Your Life event hosted by Edmonton’s NextGen.

I was really inspired by the large attendance; some had even traveled in from Leduc to see Montgomery talk about his book, Happy City. So many of the concepts in the book speak to the very heart of what community leagues advocate for and believe in. Montgomery spoke about the well-known benefits of living more locally. Benefits for the environment in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and benefits for the residents in their physical, mental and social health.

He talked passionately about how we need to fix all that we had done wrong in the past several decades. Done wrong in the sense of how we have allowed our cities to grow and the urban design that we have built has made the citizens more reliant on automobiles, and the greater isolation caused by home designs and towering condos.

For a happy city, people need frequent superficial contact with strangers. We need to intentionally create space for short interactions because that is a first step to developing trust and friendships. Front yard space where you see your neighbours, social green spaces in townhouses or apartments. He advocated against population dispersal, against consolidating shopping all in one district, or massive multiple sport field facilities, but instead intersperse your shopping, your activities, your gardens within your walkable, bikeable communities.

He advocated for the grassroots to request these changes from our policy makers, and insist on regulations that will encourage increased mixed-density and mixed-use developments throughout our city – purposefully design many places to walk to, stop at or visit.

The slower we move throughout our city, the more opportunities to connect and the more generous, more patient and more content we become.

I believe in Edmonton, our civic leaders and judging by the crowd, our next generation are fully immersed in the Happy City vision of transforming our lives through urban design.  Obviously some things we intuitively know, and community leagues are all about encouraging residents to gather, connect, live local, participate local, walk, bike and garden locally, but did we know that all those times we were serving hot chocolate, we were subconsciously encouraging people to think more warmly about each other just by holding a warm drink?  We do now.

Thanks Charles Montgomery, and to Edmonton’s NextGen for hosting the event – we will keep the hot chocolate coming.

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Resilience Festival great opportunity for two young volunteers

(L-R) Volunteers from The Meadows Community League, Iman and Kassidey, were thrilled to meet Edmonton mayor, Don  Iveson.

(L-R) Volunteers from The Meadows Community League, Iman and Kassidey, were thrilled to meet Edmonton mayor, Don Iveson.


By NORA BEGORAY, EFCL Marketing Director

February 10, 2015 – The EFCL was proud to be a part of Edmonton’s first Resilience Festival, which was held Feb. 8 and 9 at the Boyle Street Community League Hall. The EFCL and community leagues are passionate about supporting local opportunities for people to get together to develop relationships that make our neighbourhoods stronger, more sustainable and more resilient.

The event was organized by The Local Good. There were all kinds of relationship building opportunities, exchanging information about sustainable environments, protecting our provincial headwaters, sharing yard space for gardens and understanding what goes into making communities resilient.

The festival was a delightful mix of interesting things to learn, but it also had a great deal of local artwork to see,  handmade crafts we could buy and some wonderful free samples. Our team particularly enjoyed the Chocolate and Cherry jam made from Fruits of Sherbrooke, a not-for-profit group that rescues backyard fruit and ensures it is not wasted.

Another reason this festival was such a pleasure to participate in, were my two young volunteers from The Meadows Community League, Iman and Kassidy. They were a delight to work with.

Volunteering with Community Leagues is a great way for youth to gain valuable life skills in a super supportive setting.  Even helping to round up and organize kids for an activity can provide beginning skills in event planning, teaching, social or recreational work.  Being connected with community organizers will provide opportunities to model cooperative decision making and bring awareness to what can be achieved when people, maybe with very diverse interests work together for the benefit of all.

Iman and Kassidy had an interest to “make their weekends more productive” and work on their social skills.  Iman is in the leadership program at her junior high school, and typically shy, she was amazed to realize how receptive and kind people are to a simple smile and a, “ Hi, how are you today?”

Iman and Cassidy are great ambassadors for encouraging friendly, active and engaged neighbourhoods.

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What is your New Year’s resolution?

By BARB MARTOWSKI, EFCL Communications Director

Dec. 18, 2014 – When it comes to the festive season, most companies, associations, etc., celebrate with a staff party of some sort. These events are more than just parties – they are a Thank You for the hard work that’s been done throughout the year, they allow colleagues to bond in a relaxed setting and of course, to celebrate the season with those we spend a vast amount of time with. The EFCL office is no different, but we’re a small group and we wanted to do something different.

In 1917, Edmonton community leagues were born out of neighbours helping neighbours to build strong communities – a grass-roots, pioneering spirit that thrives to this day, so it wasn’t a big leap to decide that helping out would be our “party.” The big question was who would we help? Who would we lend our labour to?

Edmonton has an amazing number charities and community service organizations, many of which immediately come to mind thanks to great promotion and patronage, but there are others who are only now being able to promote their good works because of social media and the online world. Many of these run under the radar of most people, but they have been around for quite some time.

A decision made

We put two of our best colleagues on it, Joanne Booth and Bev Zubot, and tasked them with finding a suitable group that could accommodate us for a few hours sometime during the first couple of weeks of December. There were a few other guidelines, but it wasn’t easy to narrow down; there are so many groups that need help – and not always monetary help, though that’s always welcomed.

The choice was selected, the phone call made and on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 10, the EFCL staff descended on Boyle Street Community Services.

We were there to help make lunch and serve it, though when the EFCL staff has its collective sleeves rolled up, we’re ready to get whatever is needed done. On this particular morning, it included sorting through donated clothes as well as a few other odd jobs. Chef Jake said we were just too fast, but it wasn’t that we were fast, we were focused – and it’s amazing what can be accomplished with many hands.

Family time

As we chopped vegetables, cut bread and stripped the meat off a roasted turkey, the Boyle Street kitchen became the family kitchen, where stories were shared and good natured teasing and laughter abound. We never once forgot the reason why we were there, but it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better.

Boyle Street serves breakfast and lunch every day, and as Chef Jake told me, on fair weathered days, they could serve anywhere from 150 to 250 people. On cold days, that number rises dramatically to around 500. The meals are created from ingredients that are for the most part, donated. Yes, monetary donations allow them to buy the very basics, but whatever is created in the kitchen depends entirely on “what’s in the cupboard.”

So what would you do with a single roast turkey, a couple of bags of carrots, four packages of hamburger, maybe 10 potatoes and several boxes of pasta? Don’t forget, you’re about to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 plus guests for lunch, so it has to stretch.

Making it all work

If you are Chef Jake, you make a hearty soup. And that’s what we did. No onions, no celery, no other vegetables other than the carrots and the few potatoes, but what saved the day were the four bags of demi-glaze that had been donated by the Edmonton Food Bank. See – nothing goes to waste amongst our charities. If one can’t use it, another one can and they share with each other as much as they are able.

Rich, thick and tasty, the soup fed a lot of people that day who would not see another meal until the next morning. As did the sandwiches that were made for the outreach truck. There are many folks who just can’t handle being around people for whatever reason or aren’t able to make it to the centre. Boyle Street does its best to find and feed these people as well.

From money to time

Our time spent at Boyle Street was really a gift to ourselves, but this type of gift should be given throughout the year. Boyle Street and similar groups, including animal shelters, depend on volunteers as much as they do on donations – much like community leagues.

In light of the current financial pressures facing our province and our country, the “tightening of our collective belts” will have a big impact on many charitable and non-profit groups. As much as many of us would hate to admit it, monetary donations are probably the first thing we cut back on in our personal budgets at times like this, but our labour only costs us our time. And it’s all ours to give freely.

Make your New Year’s pledge for 2015 to give your time and labour to a non-profit throughout the year – not just at Christmas. It will put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart – just as it did for us. More importantly, it will put a smile on the faces of those you help.

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