Wouts recently presented this project to the Federation of Calgary Communities as a way of building a better sense of community in her neighbourhood.
“A year ago or so, a friend of mine and I decided that we would try and get to know other women in the neighbourhood,” said Wouts.
Wouts and her friend Roseanne Penner set up a small gathering of 10 women and organized a shopping excursion and dinner at a couple of the businesses in the area.
It was initially supposed to be a one-off but interest grew and Wouts and Penner started keeping a contact list of interested women and soon organized another event.
“There’s no agenda,” said Wouts. “The only focus is to connect and get to know each other in the neighbourhood.”
The Bridgeland-Riverside Ladies’ Night Out has held five events in the past year.
The most recent event, dinner at the Il Sogno restaurant, brought women from ages 20 to 85 to the occasion. Their current network consists of 140 women.
“The other thing that’s exciting to see is that we’re starting to include not only residents but also business owners in the area,” she said.
Penner said that getting to know people in her neighbourhood has increased her sense of safety for her family as well.
“My seven-year-old walks to school and has a sense of independence,” she said. “It’s impossible to walk without bumping into someone from the group. It’s that saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.”
Another regular at the events, Cathy Byers, said that she now plans around and prioritizes attending the various Ladies’ Night Out events.
“What I really value is getting to know people in the community,” she said. “Living in the same area we usually have the same values and many commonalities with each other.”“There’s no agenda. The only focus is to connect and get to know each other in the neighbourhood.” – Peggy Wouts
Penner also said that the events help support businesses in the area.
“We keep it local,” she said. “It’s good to support the businesses.”
There is also talk of tying in charitable causes to future events.
Wouts delivered some donations to the nearby Women’s Centre from their last event.
“I think this speaks to the power of grassroots connections, acknowledging one another’s values and strengths and building on that,” said Wouts.
“That’s the essence of community engagement and sense of belonging. That has been stressed at the city level as an important indicator of community growth.”