Creating community and social resiliency through volunteering
Social resiliency is an essential part of flourishing communities and can be built through volunteer programs like Evergreen's.
Published on April 22, 2019
Every year, Evergreen engages hundreds of volunteers across the country – from one-time event assistants to ongoing roles that last years. Each volunteer role is an opportunity to connect to Evergreen’s goal of creating flourishing cities, but volunteers also benefit from enhanced social connectivity, leading to increased social resiliency.
Social resilience has a very academic definition: “the capacity of people and communities to deal with external stresses and shocks – and how it contributes to community preparedness, disaster response, and post-disaster recovery” (Keck, Markus & Sakdapolrak, Patrick. 2013. What Is Social Resilience? Lessons Learned and Ways Forward. Erdkunde. 67. 5-18. 10.3112/erdkunde.2013.01.02.).
More simply, social resilience is the presence of strong ties to both one's community and fellow community members. In times of increasing shocks and stresses in urban life, like housing insecurity and climate change effects including increasingly violent storms, community ties are an important factor in a city’s ability to adapt or bounce back from a disaster.
Luckily, social resilience can be fostered in many ways.
Social resiliency is about creating a network that supports all those connected to it. A community isn’t something that emerges overnight; it is built through multiple connection points such as shared experiences or events. For a community to become socially resilient there needs to be a catalyst that forges connections between its members, like being engaged in one’s community through volunteering.
Nowhere is this more obvious than Evergreen’s City Park Stewards program in the City of North Vancouver.
Launched in 2001, City Park Stewards aims to rehabilitate local parks by removing invasive species, and replacing them with native species. Over 1,000 individuals have taken part in City Park Stewards events!
While the goal of City Park Stewards’ volunteering is to improve local parks, the project has become much more than that. Volunteers have had the opportunity to take on leadership roles, have participated in public engagement events about the future of the program, and have even learned to weave the invasive plants they remove into decorative holiday wreaths. Over 10 volunteers have been a Steward for 10 years, and some have been with the program since its inception. One long-time volunteer even wrote her thesis on the benefits of volunteering, specifically citing City Park Stewards as an example.
Volunteers in Toronto have also felt the positive effect of building social resiliency through their work with Evergreen. In particular, the Park Advocates of the Don River Valley Park found kinship among their peers while attending events and doing public outreach on behalf of the Park. What started as a common interest in one of Toronto’s underutilized greenspaces flourished into a community – people who bonded and now spend time together outside their volunteer duties.
Social resiliency is essential in cities that are becoming increasingly isolated. Newcomers to cities feel it, as do people who have lived there their entire lives. Volunteering helps to curb feelings of isolation and build resilient communities in new, dynamic ways.
The City Park Stewards program is generously funded by the City of North Vancouver and EcoAction.