Charlene Boyce speaks with Digby lead Erika Rolston
So much of our systems change work comes down to a need to change the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Stop me if you have heard this one: “I live in a small town / village / rural part of Nova Scotia, and I love it. Well, I love the people, and of course the area is gorgeous. The pace of life is great. It really works for me…. BUT….
- There’s no infrastructure so I can’t recommend others move here
- There’s nothing to do, so young people leave / do drugs
- There are no jobs, so people are hungry / hopeless / move away.”
You may have more answers that slot into that “BUT” portion. The part that rarely follows this is what the people speaking are prepared to do to fix the problem.
Which is not to blame those people! Most people don’t know how to change things, if they can change things, where to start, or what skills they might need.
This is the work our community initiatives undertake: leading, facilitating and supporting change by and in community. A key part of that work is helping people rewrite their stories.
I recently spoke to Erika Rolston, the project lead for Turning the Tide in Digby. Erika joined our organization last fall, after previous lead Jill Balser was elected MLA for Digby in the last provincial election. Erika has spent her first few months getting oriented to the work that has been done to date and assessing where things are at after two years of pandemic. COVID forced a lot of community outreach into dormancy, and has meant that the Communities Building Youth Futures’ (CBYF) dream of seeing a vibrant use of the Digby Area Youth Space (DAYS) has not come to pass. CBYF is a youth initiative in Digby under the Turning the Tide umbrella.
Erika’s ready to move the work forward, continuing to change Digby’s story. And her first step is to meet the community members who are ready and willing to help.
So, Erika, what are your priorities right now?
I have two things I am working on right now. First, I am actively and avidly recruiting, working to get people engaged through our Leadership Table and the subcommittees that flow from that. The leadership table is the Digby resident structure that helps identify our mandate, so these are the people that help us choose where to start and what our priorities are.
The other current push is to really activate the youth work we’ve been engaged in through CBYF (Communitites Building Youth Futures). There are so many youth-serving organizations in Digby doing great work. We’re aiming to bring them together to multiply their impact, and engage youth themselves to take charge of this process.
What can people expect if they come forward to work with Turning the Tide?
I am setting up training opportunities and exploring other ways to show people immediate benefits of being involved. In the longer term, of course, the benefits come from helping shape and develop the potential of their community.
Is there a skill set or type of person you are looking for?
Not at all. Community work should engage and be created by a wide representation of community members: Black, Indigenous, white, well-off and not well-off, people with different levels of abilities.
The commitment to work with us doesn’t come with dues or asks for donations… it’s just a promise to think deeply about what the community needs, helping connect services, organizations, businesses and individuals, to try to create new structures or events to improve the community. There will be work, but it’s usually more relationship building and mental work than physical.
The main thing we want is willingness: willingness to hear other opinions, to learn new things, and to change things that might not be easy to change.
CBYF has been working on youth issues for a while now: where is that work?
We’re evaluating what is happening with the current DAYS space. It served as a terrific starting point, but has some drawbacks associated with it, particularly accessibility. We are looking at what DAYS 2.0 might be: a network of places through our area? A different central location? The thing is, “youth” isn’t a single identity and whatever we do needs to acknowledge and respond to that reality.
We intend to create something similar to Our House, a youth wellness shelter in Shelburne, or Aidaen’s Place in Yarmouth. It might be a shelter, a drop in space, a place to shower, to charge devices, to do laundry, or a place to provide transitional housing. This year we are doing some idea generation and partnership development to identify the best course of action.
Any specific plans over the next year that you are able to share?
We are hoping to stage a couple of events. We’re exploring the possibility of doing a Digby version of the arts celebration Nocturne. We are also hoping to create a two-day event we’re calling YouthCan that will employ youth to undertake necessary labour toward community improvement – think painting, planting, fixing. This labour on their part will be bartered for a donation of knowledge from other community members in the form of workshops, whether that be a skill-learning session (craftwork), a tour of a business with a science focus, a cooking lesson, or something else… these are loose plans and will depend on the willingness of community members to take part.
Last question: apart from community engagement, is there anything you need immediately?
Yes! Someone to show me the nuts and bolts of Tiktok, which will be important in reaching our youth in this area. Know anyone?
For more information about anything related to Turning the Tide, contact Erika Rolston firstname.lastname@example.org or 902-740-1398