Yesterday, the United Way of Calgary and Area announced the results of its 2015 Campaign.
Calgarians contributed $55,200 million to Calgary’s social services network. In spite of job losses, increased and on-going anxiety around job security, the continued collapse of oil prices pummelling the major industry of our city, Calgarians once again stepped up to show they care and to make a difference.
Last night, I presented at one of my favourite projects initiated by the United Way — Urban Exposure Project or UEP as everyone calls it.
I can’t remember if this is my 4th or 5th year of presenting to this group of ‘next generation’ Calgarians. I only remember how much I love being part of their desire to make a difference in our city and how grateful I am to be invited to be part of their endeavours.
The description for UEP on the United Way’s website reads:
The Urban Exposure Project (UEP) engages next generation Calgarians on social issues affecting our city and the impact of United Way through the lens of photography. Participants enhance their knowledge of social issues and photography, producing a final project to be shared with the community. UEP empowers young Calgarians to build leadership, awareness and community through their art.
The project runs from late January – April each year with weekly sessions focused on social issues, photography skills and the work of United Way and partner agencies in our city. UEP culminates with a gala-style event in May to showcase your work, stories and experiences with friends, family and community members.
The amazing and talented Jeremy Fokkens shares his photographic knowledge, tips and talents to inspire the photography skills of the group. My role in the project is to help the participants get comfortable with story-telling. To help shift their awareness from ‘fear’ — how on earth can I ask someone if I can take their photo? How do I find my story in the photo? How do I not mess up?… To a place of — Wow! What a great opportunity to connect, heart to heart, to other Calgarians and to learn more about our human connection and inspire others to learn more too.
The first time I presented at UEP there were maybe 15 – 18 participants. Last night, there were over 40 people crowded into the room — all of them coming from different walks of life, all of them eager to learn more about Calgary’s social services network.
I always begin my presentation with an invitation for participants to pair up and…. wait for it… “Draw the face of the person beside you. You have 1 minute. Start. Now!”
And the response is always the same.
Groans. Nervous laughter. Apologies for the lack of ability to create a masterpiece.
When the minute is up I ask, “How many of you immediately went to ‘I can’t do that!’ when I gave you the instructions?”
Inevitably, at least 50% of the group says yes and then, when I challenge everyone else, most of them sheepishly acknowledge they too felt an inner angst kick in the minute they found out what they had to do.
The point of the exercise beyond it being a great ice-breaker– we all have a natural push back when asked to do things we tell ourselves we can’t do. Few of us are immediately comfortable stepping outside our comfort zone. Few of us actually believe we can draw – or allow ourselves time to explore our creative abilities.
So what? I ask the group. Did you have fun? Did you laugh a lot and did you get a little more comfortable with the person beside you?
Last night, I had the privilege of working with a group of engaged, excited and inspiring people who are committed to learning and doing more to create a great city.
Yes, Calgary is facing tough times. Everyone in that room is nervous about their job security. Everyone is nervous about the uncertainty of the future. As one young woman I spoke with said, “I’ve never gone through this before.”
Whether we’ve gone through a market downturn and downward slide of the economy once, or twice or more, it is always hard. Even without a crumbling economy, people experience hardship, tough times, uncertainty.
What’s important isn’t The Job or The Title or even the newness of label on our designer clothes.
What’s important is we turn up. We commit to making a difference and we give back.
Giving is Receiving.
Last night, as evidenced by the number of next generationers who were in the room to give back to community and the United Way, Calgary is in good hands.
Markets may tumble and stocks may fall, but our willingness to give back, to be there for one another, to support eachother will carry us through.
Thank you UEP, to everyone in that room last night, to the United Way of Calgary and Area, to the thousands of people working in hundreds of agencies across our city to support people in good and tough times.
You make a difference.