The Team Behind the Social Change Initiatives of the Edmonton Community Development Company

By Erica Marie

The Edmonton Community Development Company (Edmonton CDC) was created in 2017 to address poverty by boosting community economic development within core neighbourhoods. Their social change initiative, such as Project 10, is focused on real estate investments with the goal of purchasing ten problem properties. They plan to enhance areas like McCauley, Eastwood, and Alberta Avenue district by building quality homes for families within these communities.

Creating a meaningful impact in the community requires people driven to the cause, a team determined to serve challenged areas and re-establish a positive quality of life. They are motivated to understand the opportunities in our city and are working together to move the communities forward.

Left to right: Carry Perrier, Michael Quiambao and Karen Gingras

At the center of the Edmonton CDC’s network are three key members that run the social change initiatives. We will get a chance to know more about each of them as we explore their role in the company and uncover their thoughts on the organization’s purpose.

 

Karen Gingras is the Executive Director of the Edmonton CDC. As Executive Director, she is responsible for the overall strategy and operations of the organization. Along with leading the Edmonton CDC projects such as Project10, she deals with the sensitive nature of derelict properties, where she encounters unique responsibilities such as handling drugs and ammunition found on the premises.

Your passion for community involvement is evident in the programs you’ve been a part of these past twenty years, such as the financial literacy awareness in Vibrant Communities Edmonton and business coaching in Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in implementing social change initiatives?

 

Thus far, the biggest lesson I’ve learned in implementing complex initiatives such as Make Tax Time Pay and the launch of financial literacy education is best described by a very small word – We. Without incredible people who believed in what they were doing, success would have been very hard to come by. Consider the hundreds of volunteers it took to launch Make Tax Time Pay, the original team of facilitators committed to financial literacy, and the leaders of the non-profit organizations who took part in the social enterprise workshops all those years ago, We did it!

 

Communities play a significant role in creating foundation and stability for families. How do you envision bringing those aspects to the communities Edmonton CDC is involved in?

 

Edmonton is where I’ve experienced a sense of community because it is where I feel most connected to people. People with similar values and hope for the future. People who care about what is going on around them. And food – people who enjoy all of the fabulous food from around the world, right here in Edmonton. What is amazing about where the Edmonton CDC is currently working (McCauley and the Alberta Avenue district) is that there are so many people committed to their community. It is invigorating to work with people who are so passionate. Hopefully, we will be able to bring more families to these neighbourhoods who are also looking for that sense
of community.

 

Michael Quiambao is the Project Coordinator for the Edmonton CDC. His role includes engaging the community through social media marketing and meet and greets. He collaborates with developers and vendors to create business-to-business and customer relationships.

 

Born and raised in Edmonton, what have been the most significant changes you’ve seen in the city?

 

The most significant changes I have seen in the city are how Edmontonians have matured and evolved within their communities, defining their identity from the early days of Claireview to the boom of Millwoods and everything in-between. Commercially, I have witnessed new structures create opportunities for small business owners in popular locations such as Whyte Ave and the downtown core. The true strength of this city is its ability to improve continuously.

You mention that the core of your work is people; how do you get people engaged in the work the Edmonton CDC does? And is there anything you wish more people knew about your organization or the issues you are trying to solve?

 

We have held information events and workshops to engage with the areas we serve in the past. Due to the current wave of the coronavirus, we have pivoted our engagement to digital platforms and performed a series of steps to inform and educate the residents through Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I wish more people understood the severe impact derelict properties have in our city and the complexities this creates in a community.

The first property obtained by the Edmonton CDC for Project 10

Carry Perrier is the Administrative Assistant for Edmonton CDC. She takes care of all the behind-the-scenes work to ensure the projects operate smoothly. This Zoom guru helps maintain the problem properties database, establish policy documents, and assist with grant proposals.

 

What sparked your interest to study Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Native Studies at the University of Alberta?

 

I hadn’t previously gone for my undergraduate degree but felt compelled to when I realized how few people in Canada knew much, if anything, about residential schools. Not enough people know about the struggles of minorities in this country in general, and I assumed there was more I could learn as well. As someone who struggles with marginalization but also a lot of privilege, I wanted to learn as much as I could so I could translate that knowledge into helping others. I am not sure what I will be doing after my degree, but I do know that I want it to be still working within my community.

 

Why is working for a non-profit such as the Edmonton CDC important to you?

 

I have always preferred working for non-profit organizations as I want my work to not just be about earning a pay cheque but also helping my community. As my neighbourhood is one of the areas the Edmonton CDC works, it seemed like a perfect fit.

The organization recognizes that the core of a community is its people. With their participation, they are hopeful of the positive effects their social initiatives will bring forward. As Ms. Gingras said, the only way to successfully achieve and make a lasting social impact is by coming together to make our communities better, so we can say – WE did it!

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