Glenn Goodberry gives two to three days of his week looking for ways to support people in downtown Peterborough. Right now, for example, he’s collecting donations of work boots for people who are landing the kinds of jobs that require work boots, but aren’t able to afford them.
While he has ties with the Salvation Army, Northview Church, and Friends Peterborough, among others, Glenn describes what he does as more of a weaving between and among all of these organizations and the people on the street. “I’m not an official anything,” he says. “My heart is just for these people.” It was this heart that brought him to join the June 14 to 15 gathering on co-creating a Working Place for Peterborough.
Attended by about 90 Peterborough residents, the gathering began with a talk by the founders of the Working Centre in Kitchener, Joe and Stephanie Mancini. The Mancinis have dedicated close to 40 years to running the unique work and community-building hub that has inspired a dream for something similar in Peterborough.
The Mancinis “have put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and faith into creating what they have,” Glenn says. “They were worth everything just to listen to…. There was no fake anything about them.”
The Working Centre in Kitchener is like an umbrella covering a bunch of different supports and options, including a job resource centre, a kitchen with daily meals, community tools, access to technology, and affordable supportive housing.
Jason Wallwork, another Peterborough resident, says he was interested to learn that the Working Centre is not dependent on government funding, though it receives a small portion. “That is part of the reason why they are still around more than three decades later,” Jason says. “The projects are mainly funded through community fundraising and incomes that the projects generate themselves through community tools.”
Community tools are projects that offer services or products at reasonable prices while teaching skills and providing employment. Examples include a commons cafe, a computer recycling enterprise, and a video production studio. There are many more.
With the goal of actualizing this dream of a Working Place for Peterborough, participants in the mid-June gathering worked in small groups to discover what was already in the room to support the vision.
Groups of six to eight people reviewed a list of about 200 skills and saw who in the group either had the skill or knew of someone who did. “In our group, we were surprised to find that probably 99% of the skills were covered by those in the group,” Jason says. “[For] the remainder, a group member knew someone with the skill.”
In the same small groups, participants also brainstormed ideas they heard about from the Mancinis that would work in Peterborough, and recorded them. They then picked two to unpack further. Jason’s group, for example, imagined a place that would receive what would normally be junk and upcycle it into art. They also considered having this same place teach people how to fix common small household appliances to keep them out of the landfill, and to offer job skills training and employment.
The groups formed that day exchanged email addresses, with the view to finding ways to continue to work together on their ideas.
“At this point, we need to have another meeting of our group to decide where we go from here,” Jason says, noting that, in the meantime, he will be telling everyone he knows about the success in Kitchener and seeking input as to what others think would work in Peterborough. Reflecting on the specific contribution he might make, Jason notes that he’s computer savvy (enough to have taught a computer course at Fleming College). “If there is any way I can provide technical support or teach computer skills, I would love to help in that way.”
The dream of a Working Place in Peterborough has been held by a number of people, including the late Carol Winter. Ralph Gutkin has been determinedly working on finding ways for this dream to be realized for several years now.
“The best I could imagine would be to have many services and products that are unaffordable in Peterborough for those on average income become affordable through the use of community tools, or what is more commonly referred to as social enterprises,” says Jason. “Those enterprises [would] offer skills training and employment to people with an income adequate to afford those same services and products offered.”
For Glenn, the ideal outcome includes shifting how current social service groups that support people in the downtown work together. He hopes the Working Centre could spark “compassion and unity amongst all the agencies that are working with those people.
“Sometimes I see it that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Not that they are working against one another. They are just sometimes not aware that this agency or that agency has already got those bases covered and maybe if instead creating your own new whatever, you… could reach out and help another agency.”
Picture yourself as someone with barriers to employment, seeking support. If your experience is all about knocking on doors leading to rooms that “smell like bureaucracy,” and being told time after time that “we’re not the ones to help you; go here,” eventually giving up will feel like the best option.
“That’s what the Working Centre has proven over the years in Kitchener,” Glenn says. “They brought unity and a oneness to the people at street level.”
Photos by Amber Pula.