Community Living as Community Economic Development

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As a founding member of an intentional living household in Calgary’s subsidized housing, community service isn’t a casual volunteer role for Evangeline Hammond, it’s a lifestyle.

“Dorothy Day made Hospitality Houses synonymous with advocacy issues like justice and access to healthcare. Today, community living also involves urban agriculture and focuses on appreciation for the heart and emotional needs of our neighbors,” she explains.

At home or work, Hammond places emphasis on intentionally investing in the people around her. Complimenting her community living practice is her day job as Student Intake Officer at the University of Calgary.

“At the university I work with all students frequenting the International Centre, meaning both international students coming from other countries, and our students about to head out. I support all of the ongoing programs, yet the best times are when I get to have one-on-one chats with the incoming students, hear about any struggles, and try to makes their lives a little easier.”

This past October, Hammond shared her own struggles and triumphs through community living in Calgary’s Lincoln Park – an area with many new immigrants and low-income families, at the inaugural Love the City gathering. Hammond co-organized the two day gathering that attracted over 70 representatives from faith and social service organizations.

Featuring several local experts and sought after faith-rooted advocacy trainer Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, discussions included connecting neighborhoods to the church, which is often regarded as just a building on the corner. And, what are the bigger picture impacts of social service programs? What happens to the individual when they are passed through a system in which people are paid to work with them?

“When I was a student I worked in between classes for Bethany Chapel Community Development Pastor Heather Webber. Despite all the affection the community members had for her (Webber), she was still treated as a resource. I couldn’t get away from the idea that if someone lived in the same neighborhood, shared the same after-hours life rhythms, dealt with the garbage removal issues – and yet maintained the intent to connect and improve the lives around them – amazing potential could open up,” explains Hammond.

This passion for her platform inspired Love the City conference goers like James Lau with the Calgary Chinese Alliance Church to move forward with their intentional living projects.

“I got a lot from the breakout sessions on transforming churches into community houses and the community living approach to building neighborhoods,” said Lau. The timing of the event was perfect because our church community is about to launch a third community housing project. And this time, I’ll be living in it.”

But Lau isn’t heading into that endeavor blindly. Hammond has openly shared some of the challenges she’s faced in her practice.

“There’s a core question, essentially, where’s the line? In other words, what part of my life isn’t given up to the rhythms of the community? I suppose this is where embracing various seasons of life – and having a strong and diverse team working with you – becomes so important.”

With a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and International Development, Hammond also recently completed studies in Community Economic Development at Simon Fraser University (SFU). The program further affirmed her interest in adopting some ‘textbook’ strategies of community economic development – such as asset-based leadership development, learning circles, and micro-businesses.

Her go to resources have been John McKnight’s The Abundant Community and other asset based community development (ABCD) material. She’s also drawn on some of the leadership coaching techniques she picked up in an SFU course dubbed ‘Making Change Happen’ led by Anne Docherty of the Storyteller’s Foundation.

“What I picked up in the course has been fundamental in shifting some of our community development strategies. Power questions and a systematic way of laying out goals became very important in the meetings I had with a small group of women who are now becoming leaders for change in the community.”

Moving forward Hammond says she’ll continue to focus on low-income community work. She’d like to make the concepts she’s picked up in her own education more accessible to natural leaders within marginalized communities.

“The goal of what we are trying to do is inspire a different narrative of what life can look like in lower income communities in Calgary. Out of that narrative, we hope to see families supported, youth challenged, isolated individuals connected, and new leaders empowered.”

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