People and programs 01/15/2015

Community Food Centres focus on increasing access to healthy food and providing opportunities to gain food skills. An equally vital thread woven throughout the model is empowerment and engagement, both at the individual and community level. For Stratford resident, Kerrylou Dickson, that piece of The Local Community Food Centre's work was vital.

Kerrylou's first experience at The Local was at a meeting of their social justice club EPIC (Empowering People in Communities) which she attending with a couple friends. Very quickly, Kerrylou felt both welcome and inspired. And as someone who struggled with social anxiety, feeling at home in a new space with new people was nothing short of significant. The club struck a chord with her, as she was already interested in social justice issues, and The Local itself impressed her in its mission to welcome people in, cultivate food skills, and build community. Soon after joining EPIC, Kerrylou enrolled in The Local’s Community Action Training, and then became a peer advocate, supporting fellow community members to access the supports they need.

The timing of her introduction to The Local couldn’t have been better. Kerrylou hadn’t been working due to a workplace injury she incurred at a factory, and had been seeking a new career path. Her involvement at The Local propelled her interest in social justice issues forward. “It was going through the Community Action Training and becoming an advocate that clarified for me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. She started researching community college programs and a social services worker program caught her eye. “For me [the program] was about empowering people. I had found a passion and it was helping people stand up for their rights. We’re all human beings and it really bothers me that people aren’t treated respectfully as human beings.”

Now in her second year of the college program, Kerrylou is thrilled to be doing her placement at The Local, helping to coordinate Campaign 226, which raises awareness of a lack of affordable housing in Stratford. She is co-facilitating the upcoming Community Action Training — the same one that had her take this road in the first place; and every week she meets with community members to offer a friendly ear or advice.

“[This experience] has empowered me! Going through this thing is to empower others, but I’ve also empowered myself. It’s made me more comfortable stepping forward. When I came to The Local I had social anxiety. Now I’m speaking in front of groups at school and approaching strangers on the street to talk about the housing shortage.”

Kerrylou’s experience sure captures the Community Action Program at its core — that starting from a place of support and empowerment plants the seed for more of the same.