We went to the organic market at the St. Andrews Resource Centre today, to get some healthy, fresh produce. We also enjoyed a hearty lunch of lentil soup and samosas.
After several visits, I can say that the Centre is one of the best-run and most beneficial community centres that I’ve seen. In addition to the market, there are employment services, tutoring for secondary school students (grinds), adult education, computer training, parenting and young mothers programmes, and welfare rights counseling. There’s a Heritage project to record the history of the Pearse St. community and many others projects (see below).
The elegant building was opened as the St. Andrew’s School in 1895 and operated as such until 1976 due to the decline of the working docklands. A renovation began in 1985, which led to the social centre opening on Bloomsday, 1989. The structure is well-preserved and there are colorful murals in the hallways and the back courtyard.
Staff are drawn from the community, so that the centre’s work tends to directly reflect community needs. Concurrently, community members develop skills that help their own careers. The latest count is 224 staff on full or part-time status.
The Centre has learned several lessons that might be useful elsewhere:
- Issues and programs develop out of needs identified by the community. There’s bottom-up planning rather than solutions from on high.
- There’s a concerted effort to build capacity in the community. For individuals, there’s an advancement path through community work.
- There’s a flat organizational structure, which allows quick and flexible response to needs. A corollary is an openness to the process. Staff learn to find workarounds to barriers.
- There’s a self-sustaining budgetary model. There’s no one paymaster and staff grows in response to funding.
- The Centre provides integrated services, a “one-stop shop.” This applies across the life cycle from the childcare center through Day Centre with meals for the elderly. Activities such as the Cyber-Links centre coordinate with others, such as the theatre project to present drama written and acted by community members.
- Staff and community members care about the Centre. Pride in the Centre is evident: There’s no grafitti and there appear to be limited security concerns. The display of figures brought in by children in the Childcare programme is just one tangible piece of evidence for this.
- There’s a forward thinking, needs-directed process, which identifies opportunities for funding consistent with community needs, capabilities, and processes.