Meet the group of Edmonds residents bringing their community together
“We felt that we could do something for the community and bring some joy and happiness with people who are like-minded."
A group of Edmonds residents are building strong neighbourhood connections by giving back to their community.
On a sunny Thursday morning, I went to Edmonds Park to meet with some of these community members. Sitting at a long picnic table under a pagoda near the spray park, I got to know Shobha Jain and her husband Ankit Jain, Antara Deb, Gabriel Piano, and Vidya Mahantesh Naganure and her husband Mahentesh S. Naganure.
While the pandemic has left many feeling isolated, the culturally diverse Edmonds community has grown closer than ever thanks to their efforts. These members of the community have been organizing both online and offline activities such as teaching Bhangra classes, sending care packages for seniors, and holding student leadership events, all with the support of United Way’s Hi Neighbour initiative.
“It helps with feelings of isolation”
Hi Neighbour consists of a Local Love Fund, which allows community members to pursue various projects, and a survey that helps volunteers understand the needs of their community.
“Hi Neighbour is really an opportunity to support and build those connections in [the] community so that people feel supported right in their neighbourhood, and helps with their improved mental health and helps with the physical health,” senior director of community impact and investment of United Way Kim Winchell told Burnaby Beacon.
United Way began working with the Edmonds community for its Hi Neighbour initiative just before the pandemic, and it became a great asset in a time of isolation.
“It’s a growing community, lots of people moving in and out of Edmonds. Sometimes it can be challenging for people to make connections or feel at home. … The pandemic has shown us that people feel, sometimes, isolated in their own neighbourhoods, and we need to build connection and support between neighbours,” said Winchell.
United Way community builder Mary Blanca is in charge of reaching out to community members and guiding them through the process of applying for funding and organizing events. With her help, the Edmonds Burnaby Neighbourhood Group on Facebook is now bustling with events bringing the diverse community together.
“I first connect with people that I know. They create some activities, so when people are doing that, their neighbours and the people around start to be interested, and then they’re inspired by them to organize more events,” Blanca.
Blanca and her family are longtime residents in Edmonds, and they often attend these events together.
“I can share these events with my family. My children are there supporting all the events. So I feel happy, it’s my dream job,” she said.
Meet the Jains
Shobha Jain and her husband Ankit Jain are relatively new to the neighbourhood, and organizing these community events was a way for them to connect with their neighbours. Drawing inspiration from Shobha’s experiences as a teacher in India and their hobbies, the Jains brought the neighbourhood together with their art events and Bhangra and Bollywood dance workshops.
“I have so many ideas,” said Shobha. “I’m thinking we can go one by one then we can connect with each other. So then people also will [be] curious about you. …So they can also connect with us, not only one group, [but] with different groups, so that everyone should be engaged in one community.”
Antara Deb first connected with United Way through her job at BC Hydro, and she has been mobilizing the community to send supplies to New Vista Home Care, show their appreciation to frontline workers at the Burnaby Hospital with care packages, participate in the community garden, and support those in need with the little pantry. Deb is passionate about supporting children and seniors, and she is planning on setting up a little library that reflects the diversity in Edmonds.
“Edmonds is a multicultural community, lots of immigrants and people … kids are coming,” she said.
“And that little library will help the kids when they just land in the country with books, different types of books and things.”
At the age of 16, Gabriel Piano was the youngest volunteer at the picnic table. The grade 12 student at St. Thomas More Collegiate has been applying for funding from the Local Love Fund with the help of his mother, Cecilia Piano. Piano is a co-founder of the Y4Y Youth Mentorship Society, and he has been encouraging local youths to give back to their community through the Leadership Quest.
“Personally, I’m still young, so I’m still learning a lot. I was able to learn a lot from this opportunity, like a lot of things I can apply to the future,” he said.
Meet the Naganures
Software engineer Mahentesh S. Naganure and his wife Vidya Mahantesh Naganure, who works part-time at Walmart, came across the Local Love Fund when they were searching for ways to contribute at the beginning of the pandemic. Eager to connect with their neighbours, they set up a wide range of activities ranging from teaching origami classes to bingo, and even preparing care packages for unhoused folks. The Naganures are planning on organizing cooking classes as well as yoga and meditation classes, which will allow Mahentesh to draw upon his experience as a yoga teacher.
“We felt that we could do something for the community and bring some joy and happiness with people who are like-minded,” said Mahentesh.
As Blanca and the volunteers continue to build neighbourly bonds with their initiatives, they hope that they will reach the rest of the community.
“I think with whatever experience that we have gained in [the] last year, we could see many people coming together,” said Mahentesh. “It is just that lack of awareness. Some people are not coming together. But if they get to know about these initiatives, I’m sure many people will come.”