Networking drives community self-organizing

The development of the Preserved Stories website is a result of networking and serendipity.

Serendipity refers to situations in which happy and unexpected discoveries are made by accident.

I didn’t give much thought to networking until some years ago. My involvement with it began in a structured, thought-out way after I retired from teaching in May 2006. I was an educator in one context or another for over thirty years. That career had its genesis when I realized, during years that I lived in Vancouver in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that I had a knack for carrying on non-verbal conversations with very young people, namely infants and toddlers.

When I arrived in Toronto in the mid-1970s, I began working as a supply teacher at an infant daycare centre on McCaul Street in downtown Toronto, and moved on to the public school system from there.

When I retired from teaching in May 2006, I did a lot of walking. That was the first thing that I did. One day I was teaching. Next day I was taking a walking along a street in the Bloor Street West area of Toronto, enjoying a warm spring day and marvelling at the fact that I would not have to turn up at my school that day, because my teaching career was over.

Networking is a great way to share information

I’ll talk in a moment about networking via walking. Networking in a more formal sense I began to learn about after my teaching career when I joined a business networking organization, which I learned about from Barbara Lawson, a personal and business coach. I belonged to the networking organization for some time.

Through that I found a photographer, Walter Psotka; a web designer, Bruce Walden;  a new dentist, Jerry Vasilakos of Planet Dentistry; and numerous contacts who have helped me in one way or another in my current work or in my personal life. These individuals have helped me tremendously; I would not have come across them except through networking. I also learned the value of networking as a concept and activity.

After my website had been designed, a process that in my case took several years of gradual development, I met a second web designer, Mary Bella, through my volunteer work at a local school. She helped me complete the final steps involved in the launching and fine-tuning of the site.

In the course of other volunteer work, and other forms of networking, I also got started with Twitter and LinkedIn. I would never have gotten started with Twitter were it not for a conversation with a friend, Daniele Rossi, that I had met through my volunteer work.

Community networking

My involvement with the local community began when I was walking my dog. Some years ago our regular walks, often several times a day, included the perimeter of what came to be the Aquaview Condominiums construction site between Forty First and Forty Second Streets at Lake Shore Blvd. West, across from the Long Branch GO Station in Long Branch in Toronto.

I live in Long Branch  – in Toronto, not New Jersey. I mention this because from time to time, people interested in the history of Long Branch in New Jersey have contacted me. I now make a point of distinguishing between the two Long Branches. I’ve also learned a lot about the history of the Long Branch in New Jersey, and find it interesting to compare the respective local histories.

As the excavations began at the Aquaview Condominiums construction project, I would walk by the perimeter each day, with my dog, and would stop to take a few pictures and a short video with my digital camera. Every time we went by the site, I’d be taking pictures and videos. I knew that the Colonel Samuel Smith homestead site was close to Aquaview Condominiums, but at that time I didn’t give the matter much thought.

One day the construction superintendent, Andy Iadinardi, stopped me and asked what I was doing. I said I was making a five-minute video of the construction project, showing the building going up from start to finish.

He thought that was a great idea, gave me permission to proceed, and years later asked if I could put together a five-minute digital portfolio for him. I put together such a portfolio  and edited his resume. The result for Andy Iadinardi was a quick transition to the role of construction superintendent at a new condo project elsewhere in Toronto (coincidentally close to another local history site) once the Aquaview project was completed.

Steven Toepell of Bohemian Passport helped with the latter video and with two other online videos I’ve made in recent years. He edited the videos. I could never have produced the videos without his help. I also met him through networking.

As time passed during my documentation of the Aquaview project, I acquired a video camera and sound recording equipment. I learned about where to find sound recording equipment from a friend in Montreal, Tim Hewlings, who works in the sound production industry. I knew him from our high school days in Montreal in the early 1960s.

Tin Hewlings directed me to Trew Audio in Toronto, which has been highly helpful in getting me up to speed on sound recording equipment and techniques. They’ve also told me about Headshots Rentals in Toronto, which sells and rents professional level equipment and, like Trew Audio, provides first-rate advice and service.

Parkview School remains in public hands

I became involved with the Parkview School project, described elsewhere on this website, when I learned in October 2010 that Parkview School, on Forty First Street across from the Aquaview Condos project, was for sale.

With help from Bert Crandall and Michael Harrison, who shared their extensive knowledge of archival information related to the Parkview property, along with a letter-writing campaign that I organized with strategic advice from key people in the community, and along with help from Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Laurel Broten and Ward 3, Toronto District School Board Trustee Pamela Gough, the results turned out to be a ‘good news’ story.

Our family dog also played a key role in the networking that was involved with the Parkview story. My wife, in her own regular walks with our dog, had met another local dog walker, who was a friend of Bert Crandall, who had been doing extensive archival research about Long Branch for many years.

Having learned of his research from my wife, I met with Bert Crandall for coffee not long before I learned, from a visit to the Toronto District School Board website, that Parkview School was being sold. He was very helpful — along with Michael Harrison — in providing documentation related to archaeological evidence about the school grounds of Parkview School. Historically, the school site is highly significant, as it was where Colonel Samuel Smith, after the American Revolutionary War, had built a log cabin in 1797. The cabin was demolished in 1955.

Similarly, I had learned about Michael Harrison’s work through talking with a neighbour, before I learned of the sale of Parkview School, about my interest in local history.

The Parkview School story prompted me to set up an email list, dealing first with the Parkview story and subsequently with local history and community news. Since then I’ve also set up a Newsletter category on my website. The newsletter provides a more effective way to share information in the long run, as compared to sending out large numbers of emails each week to an email distribution list.

Since the Parkview story, I’ve also become involved with Jane’s Walks and Heritage Bike Rides, as they are also a great way to share information about local history and news.

I’m pleased to say, for example, that I have an interest in the apple orchard at the Lakeshore Hospital Ground, discussed elsewhere on this website, because I was involved in a Heritage Bike Ride in Long Branch in June 2012. Otherwise, unlike many others who know the area better, I wouldn’t know where it is.

Jane Jacobs spoke of community self-organizing

In my previous volunteer work I’ve been involved in community organizing and media relations. This background helps me in my current volunteer efforts.

I particularly like a term that I’ve come across with regard to the life and legacy of Jane Jacobs. She spoke of the process of community self-organizing. I strongly support that form of organizing.

The name is key part of the brand for any organization

In working with a wide range of organization, often in the role of founder or co-founder, and as an early leader of them, I’ve learned about the dynamics and typical life histories of groups. Over the years, I’ve written about and made presentations about what I’ve learned.

By way of example, the name that a group or organizations chooses for itself has a huge impact on its effectiveness, in my experience.

I mention this because in volunteer work over several decades, I’ve been involved in a name change for a national organization that I had co-founded in 1991. Some years after the founding of the organization, we made the name of that particular organization shorter, having started out with a long and cumbersome name.

Because I was involved with media relations for the organization, I realized that reporters were much more willing to mention us in media reports, and even just to contact us — because we now had a name that was brief and to the point, and that explained at once who we were, and what we were about.

Branding is a key part of any organization’s success. An organization’s name warrants close thought. By way of example, if I were involved (which I’m not) with strategic planning for Citizens Concerned About the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront, I’d argue for a shorter name such as Natural Lakeshore, with the current name as a tagline.

Other factors that contribute to success, in my experience, include a consistent focus on strategic and long-term planning.

Additional factors that make a difference include leadership development and leadership succession, term limits for leaders, and an organizational culture that welcomes new ideas, new members, and diversity in viewpoints. Equally important is a culture that consistently demonstrates that grassroots members have a strong sense of ownership of the organization, and of its decision-making process.

Some of the most effective organizations in much of the work that goes on in communities are informal networks, without a formal name, and without formally designated leaders. I’m pleased to be an active participant of such networks.

Update

A March 27, 2018 CBC article is entitled: “This man started a magazine while living in a Toronto homeless shelter: ‘To have a platform where people are listening … it means everything,’ Joel Zola says.”

 

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