I am new to the Gathering. My first experience was last year as a first year student in the Community Development/Community Economic Development program at Red River College. By the time of the conference we had only been in school for a month. Needless to say I was green, very green. I was still working out how to explain what community development is to my parents (I still am.) On the day of the Gathering our class was tasked to be room hosts for the workshops. Our roles were to introduce the speakers and facilitate question and answer periods at the end. Now, public speaking on the best days can cause dry mouth and sweaty palms and the thought of having to speak in front of CED veterans caused these symptoms to go into overdrive. In the end, there was no need for worry. The community atmosphere at the Gathering created a space of understanding and compassion and greatly reducing these feelings of anxiety. But this post is not about my personal stress symptoms. Instead, I want to share my experience of the Gathering from a student perspective, specifically how the conference acted as an introduction to the sector through a total immersion into the work and an opportunity for critical self-reflection.
Extending learning beyond the classroom and supporting students entering the workforce has long been a goal of Gathering coordinators and it has benefitted students by providing them with three essential experiences: learning, sharing, and peer connection. Connections help students build their networks and find mentors; sharing encourages students to test theories and opinions developed in the classroom; and learning provides opportunities to explore CED projects and organizations in Manitoba (the variety of fields represented at the conference acts as a sort of “CED sampler” for those new to the sector.) However, it was the personal learning, the opportunity for critical self-reflection, which I found to be the most meaningful experience. The keynote speakers, Karen Joseph and Harsha Walia, made me critically reflect on my role in my community. They challenged me to assess the language I use and the actions I take in my work. They encouraged me to reflect on how I approach allyship and gave me guidance on how to move forward with being a more effective ally. These necessary questions are ongoing processes but I credit the keynotes, the workshop facilitators, and the gathering community for challenging me and creating a space for this reflection.
I am returning to the Gathering this year as a member of the Spark team and while there might be some residual dry mouth I am returning with the knowledge and insights gained from last year. I am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and mentors and reach out to new people who can show me new ways of approaching my work.
This year CCEDNet-Manitoba is celebrating 15 years of the Gathering. Milestone anniversaries like this always encourage contemplation of the past. People reflect on the work that was accomplished and connections made along the way. At the 2017 Gathering there will be a celebration of the work and reunions between old friends, however there will also be an eager energy and a drive to move forward into the future. After all, there is still work to do towards building our shared future.
Genevieve Dack-Tittley graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BA (Honours) in Political Studies, and since worked in various arts and education based programs both locally and internationally. It was the love of this programming that led her to return to school to earn her certificate in Community Development/Community Economic Development at Red River College. She is excited to now be part of the CCCEDNet team.
In her spare time Genevieve is an active volunteer in her community. She currently sits on the boards of both One Trunk Theater and Friends of Sherbrook Pool.