The Little Burgundy Coalition: Your voice in the community

[Vues sur la Bourgogne, Vol 5, no 4 – Winter 2016/2017]

Who runs the neighbourhood? You do. That’s the Little Burgundy Coalition’s vision of the future, and the philosophy behind the work they’ve done in the community for more than 25 years.

The Coalition has big dreams, but they won’t come true if the community doesn’t participate.

“The Coalition has big dreams, but they won’t come true if the community doesn’t participate,” says Jean-Addlaire Gaëtan. The Griffintown resident grew up in Little Burgundy and today he’s the newest President of the Little Burgundy Coalition board of directors.

“We want residents to have leadership in the community,” agrees Gabriela Jakubovits, a community workers at the Coalition. “That’s our vision of how community development should be done.”

What that means in practice is that when decisions are made that affect local people, residents have a say in what those decisions should be.

This happened in 2014 and 2015, when the Coalition hosted a series of meetings known as Rendez-vous citoyens. Residents shared their views on everything from local jobs to affordable housing to sports and leisure facilities to public security, helping the Coalition create a long-term action plan and neighbourhood portrait of Little Burgundy. It’s this input from residents that guides the Coalition’s work as a “roundtable,” providing a forum for the many organizations that work around the neighbourhood to talk to each other, coordinate their efforts and come up with better solutions for people who live here – solutions that residents actually want.

For an example of how this works, look no further than Oscar Peterson Park. Once synonymous with crime and drugs, today the park is a haven for local families, complete with renovated basketball courts and a soccer field, mediation facilities on hand, and activities for kids all summer long. Each of these upgrades and services is run by a different community group; it’s the Coalition that became a meeting point to bring these organizations together to come up with solutions, like the Occupy the Park project. And the Coalition continues to make sure they stay connected – to local residents, to each other, and to the Southwest borough – to ensure the park is a welcoming space for everyone.

Another issue that touches many families in Little Burgundy is homework tutoring. There are currently six organizations around the community that offer after-school tutoring for kids, but with waiting lists for each one, it’s clear that local demand outstrips supply. Once again, the Coalition is taking an active role in addressing the issue by inviting all tutoring groups to a forum in January, where they can meet up, discuss best practices and brainstorm ways to meet local needs.

Beyond its work with community organizations, the Coalition is a hub for local residents who don’t know where to turn. According to Jakubovits, people drop by the Coalition’s offices on Des Seigneurs every day, looking for assistance with anything from tweaking their CV to applying for social housing. Thanks to its strong links to a host of community services, the Coalition is a central reference point where residents can go to get connected to whatever services they need.

Actively organizing since 1990, the Coalition’s actions today center on youth, access to food, housing, urban safety, urban planning and the environment, neighbourhood projects like the Burgundy Path, and running the bilingual newspapers Vues sur la Bourgogne. A generation of Little Burgundy residents have now grown up with the Coalition’s initiatives in their lives. Maybe they’ve tried their hand at writing for the paper, played soccer in the park, or scooped a prize at the Burgundy Awards, an annual gala to credit the efforts of neighbourhood youth and encourage them to stay in school.

“The Coalition is always looking for new ways to include youth in decision-making,” says Gaëtan. It’s a crucial way of building a dynamic and active community into the future; one in which the Coalition plans to reach out to even more residents of Little Burgundy and neighbouring Griffintown.

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