Sunalta Community Association reinvents itself to serve the neighbourhood

Staying Connected: Angie Davis and her son Rowan Davis are excited for gardening at Sunalta Community Association in Calgary on May 11. The association has experimented with new ways to stay connected to the community during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Lia Pereira/The Press)

While the city still dealt with snow on the streets and followed the provincial government’s daily updates on coronavirus, the Sunalta Community Association acted quickly.

Days after the quarantine was announced, the neighbourhood association published on its social media that the association’s headquarters would be closed.

During the same week, encouraging notes, a list of essential information, and contact phone numbers were sent to all residents in mailboxes, or carefully placed in plastic bags on doorsteps.

The mobilization was only possible thanks to the engagement of volunteers, said Angie Davis, the association’s president.

“We offered some fun activity pages for kids sort of home thing that would help with outreach. And then we put up signs saying we’re here for you to call us. And we did get some response. We had some new residents’ phone [numbers],” said Davis.

The community leader explained that, despite the isolation, two activities have had strong public participation: the virtual coffee and the gardening workshops.

“We set up a virtual coffee kind of option on our website and through our newsletter on Facebook. So, people could select our photo and then book in the calendar, like a coffee date with us, ” said Davis.

Jorge Rocha, who has been living in the neighbourhood for almost two years, wasn’t aware of the activities of the association due to his considerable workload and studies. However, he explained, the isolation has allowed him to get in contact with neighbours he had not known before.

“I ended up interacting with my neighbours a little bit more than before since everyone now is a little bit more friendly,” said Rocha. 

As a native of Brazil, a country where kisses and hugs are common expressions of affection, he felt the lack of self-expressing that affection, even among friends. However, he is grateful to be more talkative with his neighbours now.

Kelly Bonfim, who moved to the neighborhood shortly before the isolation orders began, says that she didn’t have time to integrate into the neighbourhood before but has been feeling good living in Sunalta.

“I think everyone is respectful in the community. They’re doing their own things here,” said Bonfim.

Funded by the Calgary Community Hubs program, the association has taken the necessary steps and will continue on with its gardening program during the spring and summer.

The association has seen a loss of income from rentals for events, but Davis faces the situation with optimism and creativity.

“When this first happened, I thought my job was done and how could I possibly run programs and events like our halls close? We don’t have the space. It really challenged me to be creative, ” she remembers.

The association’s efforts are being rewarded and the community has participated in the programs offered. Davis believes that social media is a fundamental part of the job, and the new situation has prompted her to explore possibilities through networks to keep the community spirit alive.

However, she regrets the lack of space to carry out new activities in the future. Sunalta Community Association has a new headquarters project that remains on paper, for lack of investors.

“I think, as a community association, we’d like to become self-sustaining, and not have to rely on grants to run our programs. It’s unique. Not many associations are asking for that, but that’s kind of our big vision to have supported residents and then they could be employed at the facility,” said Davis.

Community Connections: Sunalta Community Association supports its residents by sharing useful information. Community notices have been placed in plastic bags. (Photo by Lia Pereira/The Press)