Neighbourhood Link’s Wake Up The Neighbours campaign is well underway, but the purpose – simply to inform the East End about the organization’s existence and extent of services – is far from fulfilled.
Board member Mary Christie has been volunteering with Neighbourhood Link for decades, helping to spread the word about all the programs run by the roughly 100 staff and over 600 volunteers.
“I’ve been associated with them for 30 years one way or the other, starting with canvassing for them with my father-in-law,” she said.
In her time with the organization, Christie has seen many changes and much growth; from humble beginnings as a small group of people helping seniors in the area, to a non-profit housing provider, to a multi-faceted organization running programs and services for seniors, the unemployed, newcomers and anyone else in the East End that needs a bit of help.
“The need grew. That’s really why the organization grew, is that the need grew,” she said. “The people that were involved originally – Judith Leon, Cecilia Murphy, Jeannie Dudley – nobody ever said ‘no’. If there was something that somebody phoned about, they just found a way of getting it done.”
When she first began volunteering with Neighbourhood Link, Christie helped out with the supper club, and did friendly visiting, dropping in on local seniors to make sure they had some social contact, and to see whether they needed any other help. In the 1980s the organization started to get into providing housing – since the first project opened in 1984, Neighbourhood Link has expanded to over 300 units in four buildings. Employment programs followed economic recession; help in finding work flowed then to newcomers, and then to older workers.
When one employee heard about large numbers of newcomers moving into the Crescent Town area years ago, she thought it might be a population Neighbourhood Link could serve.
“She put up posters, and off she went with one little box of cookies and a pot of tea, and set herself up in the community room there, just for a conversation circle. And I think in the beginning there were maybe three or four people, and before we knew it, there were dozens and dozens of women and their children. It grew into language programming and childhood services, and all of those sorts of things bring that community together,” said Christie.
She said she has plans to stay with the organization as long as she is able. Though returning to full-time work has curtailed most of Christie’s extensive volunteer contributions to the East End, she said Neighbourhood Link is too special for her to step back. Part of it is the staff – “I think it must be a calling,” she said of the employees’ dedication to their work. The other aspect is how much Neighbourhood Link contributes to the area, which is blessed enough to have organizations to deal with almost any issue.
“We’ve always been able to respond to what’s happening in the community,” said Christie. “We just have the most dedicated people that work here. And a lot of them are from the neighbourhood, their families are here, they’re invested in the community. If something needs doing, they find a way to do it, and hopefully the money follows.”
“I think people just don’t realize how big it is, and how much we do in the community,” she said.