Vibrant Communities, itself an innovative movement, takes a grassroots comprehensive approach to poverty reduction. One of the many Vibrant Communities St. John’s initiatives, which accurately reflects this unique approach, is Citizens Voice. Citizens Voice:
“The majority of these individuals felt marginalized with no voice,” says Ruth MacDonald, Neighbourhood Supporter. “They are finding their voices and working together with positive results.”
Success ranges from individual empowerment to policy change. One single father in the group learned how to read his children’s medicine labels correctly with help from a session on health literacy. By connecting with others and building on his own strengths, this father now has supports for his two special needs children, is working a full-time job and going back to school! Many members are attending a community leadership program organized by Vibrant Communities St. John’s. At a group level, residents are connecting with each other and planning joint neighbourhood events through a ‘Network for Vibrant Neighbourhoods’. Frustrated and marginalized by the process of phoning the general income support line, which often resulted in individuals repeating the same information to various agents, the Citizens Voice group now has a direct line and an assigned client services officer. A provincial government programs and services booklet has been revamped and a staff person dedicated to promoting and supporting it, after feedback received from the group.
Citizens Voice proves that engaging citizens in new ways can effect positive change. But how? Organizations all over the country are working to engage marginalized citizens. What makes it work? It is all in the inclusive approach and enabling environment, according to Macdonald. “You have to work with people where they live and eliminate barriers to participation. Most of the people in Citizens Voice have never been to the Community Sector Council office, but I have been in their communities, their neighbourhoods, tenants associations and community centres, and sometimes even at their kitchen tables!” Barriers to participation in the group are addressed and supports are provided for transportation and childcare so that everyone can attend the monthly meetings.
Citizens Voice is helping individuals find their own voices, while collectively helping to shape decisions that can provide solutions and reduce barriers for people living in poverty.
More information about Vibrant Communities - St. John's.