Turning local love into action at Better Together

On October 8 a crowd of community champions gathered at the Woodward’s building in Gastown for Better Together by United Way.  

Better Together was an event designed by donors, for donors. After consulting with United Way supporters earlier this year, event organizers heard there was demand for something simple, with major impact. There was a call to see how we are changing lives in community – but to also have the chance to roll up our sleeves and tackle vulnerability and isolation head-on, in our own neighbourhoods 

So Better Together was born! 

participants at Better Together

Participants worked in small groups at Better Together.

The power of place

The day was steeped in the power of place, and the importance of our communities past, present and future 

Curtis Ahenakew, cultural worker at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and local actor and activist, opened the event with a recognition of the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.  

In his welcome, Curtis drew parallels between tenets of his indigenous culture and the premise of Better Together.

“It’s about putting everyone else in your community first, and putting yourself last. And that’s hard to do.”

Curtis Ahenakew leads welcome at Better Together

Curtis Ahenakew of the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre led a recognition of the unceded lands on which Better Together took place.

Programs and community action, together

The theme “Better Together” carried through with a recognition that United Way programs are even better when paired with neighbourhood initiatives led by local residents.  

Attendees heard from Soraya Bellou, a remarkable young woman whose life was changed by the United Way supported-Youth Futures Education Fund. (Read Soraya’s inspiring story, here).  

Guests then heard a rousing keynote address from Jim Diers. Jim is an author, international community-building expert, and the former Director of Neighbourhoods in Seattle, Washington. Jim shared his decades of insights with the group, including what defines community, the power of community, and how communities themselves can design solutions to local issues. 

Jim Diers at Better Together

Jim Diers shared examples from around the world of how small communities have come together to tackle local issues.

Around the world, there is a growing epidemic of loneliness,” said Jim.

“It’s such a problem that some governments are even establishing ministries to address it. But bureaucrats can’t solve loneliness. Only community can do that.”  

Diers’s words took on even greater resonance given research released that very day, illustrating just how common loneliness is across B.C.  

Isolation abounds, but giving back is an antidote

According to a new United Way study, almost half (46%) of British Columbians say they sometimes feel lonely – but there is an upside. 

The same poll also found that giving back as part of a group, whether you donate time or money, makes us feel better than doing it alone. British Columbians report that giving to charity is 10% more meaningful as part of a group campaign, while volunteering is 21% more meaningful with other people you know.  

In other words: giving is better, together.  

“We know social isolation is a growing problem in our communities, says Jennifer Marshall, Director of Donor Experience with United Way of the Lower Mainland.  

“The good news is giving back is one way you can foster valuable social connections, for yourself and for others. Getting together and giving together is one antidote to social isolation.”

Jamming out local solutions

But Better Together was about more than talking about local issues. It was a chance for action. That’s why the event culminated with a design jam!  

A design jam is a hands-on, team-building workshop where people come together to address a real problem in creative ways – a perfect fit for United Way supporters. 

participants do design jam at better together

The Better Together design jam invited guests to consider both the issues in their communities, and the skills and passions they had to offer.

Facilitators Sarah Hay and Jesi Carson of the Vancouver Design Nerds led attendees through a reflective exercise, where they could immediately apply what they had learned with what they could offer their own communities.  

“In brainstorming, there’s no such thing as a bad idea!” said Design Nerd Jesi Carson, as attendees got to work honing in on local issues and their own gifts to solve them.

Throughout the design jam, residents generated a plethora of inspiring ideas, from block parties to address isolation, to challenging persistent single-use plastics in grocery stores, and to engaging local business on anti-racist marketing practices. These ideas became “local love action plans”, pledges to take the first step for change.  

local love action plans

Over 100 “local love action plans” were generated at Better Together. Incredible!

No matter what their idea, big or small, by event-end residents had created a movement – something much larger than themselves.  

It was clear local love is better, together.  

Feeling inspired? Want to take action, today? Go to iVolunteer.ca to see volunteer opportunities near you.  In the coming weeks, watch for new opportunities on iVolunteer, pulled directly from your neighbours’ inspiring ideas!  

Check out all the event photos on Facebook.