Welcome to the neighbourhood: The value of community leagues

Click to play video 'The importance of community leagues in Edmonton' The importance of community leagues in Edmonton
WATCH ABOVE: Laura Cunningham-Shpeley and Masood Makarechian with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues talk about some of the benefits of community leagues – May 13, 2019

Greg Lane can spend up to 40 hours a week volunteering.

He works as a consultant but he’s also the president of the McCauley Community League in Edmonton — a role that comes with a heavier workload than you’d expect.

“It’s been a lot of work, I’ll be honest, way more than I thought it would be. But it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Lane said.

Lane, now in his second term as president, said he first became involved after his wife started going to community revitalization meetings.

“Along the way, I had asked about the community league. I went to a meeting, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut and I ended up being asked to join the board,” Lane laughed.

McCauley is part of 161 community leagues in Edmonton, each assisted by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL).

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LISTEN BELOW: Welcome to the neighbourhood: The value of community leagues

EFCL Executive Director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley says community leagues are incredibly valuable.

“Every day there are hundreds of people working to make our neighbourhood better.

“They aren’t paid by the city; they are just residents that want to be part of something bigger than themselves and want to create something better for their community,” Cunningham-Shpeley said.

The McCauley league puts together four major community events per season.

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“We focused a lot on the last year in kids programming, a lot on celebrations, as well as all of the civic stuff that I’ve been involved in,” Lane said. “Even the simplest of events, they all take an enormous amount of time. We’ve got a smaller board — just nine of us doing all of this work. It’s amazing to see what we pull of.”

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The EFCL itself typically has minimal involvement in the day-to-day activities of the league.

“We’re there to provide support, resources and assistance to anything leagues are facing. We’ve been here for nearly 100 years as an organization,” Cunningham-Shpeley said. “Leagues do their own thing. We don’t tell leagues what to do; we are here to help provide support.”

What does my community league do?

If there’s a tournament, fundraiser or community event in your neighbourhood, chances are it was put on by your local league.

“They host the barbecues, the information sessions, the movie nights, you name it. Leagues are responsible for where we socialize, where we have access to physical activity,” Cunningham-Shpeley said.

“It really draws people out of their houses and into their neighbourhood.

“In a digital world, people think they’ve connected with all of these people but we need to get people out and thinking differently towards common causes. Your league provides you the reason to get you out of the house.”

Funding from the city, the Alberta government and other grant funding is provided to the community to animate the neighbourhood.

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Community League Day launch at Fraser Community League
Community League Day launch at Fraser Community League. EFCL

“Usually there’s a hall or a basketball court, that’s the space that public land has been given by the government to ensure neighbours have a space where they can gather,” Cunningham-Shpeley said. “We are so fortunate in Edmonton with this community league movement. It is citizen-driven, resident-driven.”

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Cunningham-Shpeley said other Canadian cities are struggling to figure out how to organize a large group of volunteers. She’s been invited to a conference in Montreal about Edmonton’s league movement.

“They want to hear about how we’ve put this in place, how it works and what has it contributed to the city.”

In 2014, EFCL hired an independent researcher to conduct research about the magnitude of EFCL’s volunteer network. Based on the EFCL records and knowledge of other community associations across the country, EFCL claims it is the largest volunteer community association movement in Canada.

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Cunningham-Shpeley said involvement in your community league is a great way to take tangible action towards the issues that matter to you.

“Whether it be zoning issues, concerns around traffic or you want to help a group of seniors or kids out in the neighbourhood. Those are things leagues get involved in and that’s how neighbours come together to rally and make their neighbourhood what they are looking for.”

Lane said he’s never felt a sense of community as strong as the one in McCauley.

“I know the majority of my neighbours by first name. There is care and concern for one another. People are willing to step up and dedicate their times to things,” Lane said.

If there’s no compensation, what drives so many Edmontonians to dedicate time to their league?

“People do it because they see they can make change in that neighbourhood,” Cunningham-Shpeley explained.

“People dedicate hundreds of hours a year to this organization because it’s from the heart. That kind of dedication you can’t pay for.”

Lane echoes those sentiments.

“It’s all volunteer work, which makes it so phenomenal beyond that. Nobody is getting paid for any of this. It’s just people that care about their neighborhood and communities that are stepping up,” Lane said.

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If you’d like to get involved in your own community, Lane suggested connecting with the EFCL or your local league.

“The EFCL is a great resource. Those members have a wealth of experience they are sitting on,” Lane said.

“Talk to your neighbours. I can’t express the value in that enough. You’ll find out they have so much in common with you. Once you get the momentum going [for volunteering], it draws people in… at least that’s my hope.”