The Gathering’s the Thing

potluckI am certain that, had we all been listening carefully, we would have heard a collective sigh across the country on Monday morning. With the dawning of a new day came a dispiriting realization – the Olympic Games have come and gone. Gone are the action-packed lunch breaks, the eager checking of stats, the surprisingly lively discussions over ice dancing. For those of us not competing in the Games, the gathering’s the thing – the viewing experience is rendered more meaningful by being with others.

The good news is that while we may have to save our more spirited celebrations for the summer of 2016, we can gather as a community any time of year. Being new to Volunteer Alberta, I have quickly come to admire the importance of the lunch hour; sitting down to eat together truly enhances the communal atmosphere of the office. As I work with newcomers learning ESL (English as Second Language) in my spare time, I am always thinking of how to foster community engagement.

The ESL classroom is a simultaneously safe and vulnerable space. It is undoubtedly beneficial for the students to come together, but many are stepping far outside their comfort zones by participating. To speak English brings them one step closer to belonging and being an active member of the community. For many nonprofits serving newcomers, celebratory occasions and milestones are often marked by a potluck, allowing clients, volunteers and staff alike to share food from their respective cultures.

Potlucks have always been an excellent way of bringing people together, but some organizations are really upping the ante and highlighting the importance of gathering in unfamiliar spaces. The Green Room (an IFSSA initiative) offers family-friendly activities encouraging people to embrace winter, such as snowshoeing, nature walks and stargazing; the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers has organized an inclusive choir singing in multiple languages; and Catholic Social Services is even hosting a weekend camping trip for its clients.

Those of us missing that Olympic high this week need look no further than our fellow nonprofit organizations to get inspired, as gatherings inside and outside the workplace are great ways to keep our spirit alive.

Rachel Pereira, Program Administrative Assistant