Every little kindness

November 19, 2015

Making positive change in the world doesn’t require a global movement or a hashtag—simply lend a hand in your own community

By Stephanie Sparks (Originally appeared in M Alumni News—Winter 2015/16)

IMAGE_STORY_Every_Kindness_1The moment she was selected for the placement at Boyle Street Community Services, Natalie Chrapko (Bachelor of Science in Nursing, ’11) knew the experience was going to be challenging.

Growing up in a rural community, she was warned to fear and stay away from homeless people. She may have never set foot in Edmonton’s Boyle neighbourhood if she didn’t need to complete that required community health placement course.

As she climbed the concrete stairs, past the lineup of dishevelled, hungry homeless people, the twinge of fear she felt wasn’t unexpected. But the tremendous kindness she found when she opened those doors certainly was. “It was a turning point for me to see the kindness that everybody showed to the community members and to realize these people are so thankful for that kindness that’s shown to them and to anyone who would give them a helping hand.” 

Though it was the most “non-nursing” placement she has ever done—helping serve meals, making crafts and getting to know the community members—Natalie describes it as a blessing, and one that reminded her that every little kindness makes a big impact on the community.

Poverty, crime, the environment and injustice are global issues found in everyone’s backyard, no matter where you call home. Sometimes you give back—time, money and energy—because you support a particular cause. And sometimes you give back because the work is incredibly important. 

It’s part of the job. It needs to get done. It’s an issue that matters to me.

Shaping young citizens

“I can honestly say I would do this job in one way or another, regardless of whether we were being paid—it’s that rewarding to me,” says Jody Merrick (Early Learning and Child Care, ’13). Jody and fellow alumna Anna Szylko are early childhood educators, curriculum coaches and staff support for Terra Centre, a non-profit organization that partners with Edmonton Public Schools at Braemar School; the partnership provides services and support to young mothers as they work towards high school completion. Jody and Anna support the young parents navigating family situations and care for their children while they attend classes.

“There is such a stigma around teen pregnancy and in this place, the stigma is non-existent,” says Jody. “Here they are strong, capable young women parenting their children, often on their own. They’re seeing past their circumstances and achieving great things for their children’s sake.”

And those “great things” wouldn’t be possible without the centre’s child care facility. In May, Jody and Anna each presented at the Child Care Conference, demonstrating the clever ways they support the healthy development of the infants and toddlers they work with.

“They are our youngest citizens and they are important,” says Anna. “I like kids, but it’s bigger than that, and I want to be part of it.”

Jody and Anna support a culture of caring by helping families, but other times, it’s entire communities that need help.

IMAGE_STORY_Every_Kindness_2A safe and clean city

When a police officer and social worker working in Edmonton’s Calder neighbourhood contacted general enforcement bylaw officers Tiffany Sustrik and Mandi Friesen, the two alumni had their work cut out for them.

“We do a bit of work around public safety, education and community engagement, but our main goal is to promote a safe and clean city,” explains Tiffany (Police and Investigations, ’06). 

With a population of more than 4,000 people in 2014, the century-old Calder area had not seen much love in a long time. When Tiffany and Mandi canvassed the area, they discovered a large number of “nuisance complaints”—litter, unwanted furniture, overgrown grass, illegally parked recreational vehicles and other private property infractions.

“When we started looking at the statistics of the neighbourhood, we knew that general, mainstream enforcement wasn’t going to work,” recalls Tiffany. “We could see that it was a lower-income area, so we had to do something to support that. It’s one thing to do the enforcement, but only if the residents have the means to clean their property and take care of it.” 

So they started a “blitz.” After recording all of the infractions, they turned Calder into a project that they worked on around their regular day-to-day tasks. They took an educational approach, recruiting volunteers to spread flyers around the area, letting residents know that they were going to host a major neighbourhood cleanup event. 

“We started with the education piece before we did the enforcement, and then we followed it up with the engagement piece,” says Tiffany.

Despite the dreary grey day, the cleanup event was a success. Not only did they have sponsors to help out, Tiffany and Mandi collaborated with other city departments, including Waste Management, which hauled away six large bins of rubbish.

“Seeing all the stakeholders come together and work toward the same goal and seeing the community utilize the project—we knew we made a difference,” says Mandi (Police and Investigations, ’07). An assessment of the neighbourhood afterward  revealed that they had an 85 per cent increase in compliance. In 2013, they were recognized for their efforts with a City Manager’s Award. Though they have since taken on supervisory roles, they see potential for future community leadership projects.

IMAGE_STORY_Every_Kindness_3“We all want to live in a great city,” says Tiffany. “To live somewhere that’s vibrant and that we’re proud of. Edmonton is becoming nationally known and that’s because of everybody’s work, not just ours. We have to give youth and communities the chance to take ownership and do their own projects.”

A new perspective on humanity

A couple of years have gone by since Natalie completed her placement at Boyle Street, and her life now looks much different than it did when she was a student—she moved away from the city, is pursuing a career as an operating room nurse and started a family. The experience at Boyle Street may be a mere memory, but it’s one she says has changed her perspective on humanity.

“We are really all the same. Things are going to happen to us that we may or may not be in control of,” she says. “I only need to think about experiences like Boyle Street to remember I need to treat everyone with respect and dignity.”


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