by Kim Winnicky
Community. For me, community defines the Yukon as much as our mountains and rivers. It’s why I choose to live in the Yukon, and it’s what has formed the heart of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition for these last 20 years.
Whitehorse Connects is one YAPC initiative which exemplifies the organization’s commitment to community.
The first Whitehorse Connects was held as part of Poverty and Homelessness Action Week in October 2008. The event was to be based on the structure of similar events held in San Francisco and Vancouver (Project Homeless Connects) where businesses, non-profit organizations and government departments offer free goods and services to the homeless. YAPC rented the former L’AFY space on Strickland Street (currently the Whitehorse Food Bank), and contacted a number of organizations who agreed to provide services.
Our doors opened at 10 am. Musicians offered live music all day. One person cut hair in an office space, and several service organizations offered information and goods to take away from tables set along the perimeter of the room. Coffee, tea and snacks were available all day. At 5 p.m., tables were rearranged and a community potluck was held.
While planning that first Connects, we were unsure if any one would attend. In fact, over 180 people attended that first Connects Day, and many guests expressed how grateful they were to have a non-judgmental space to just be for the day.
The connection between guests and service providers, the deep appreciation expressed by guests, and the simplicity of providing a warm, welcoming space for the marginalized in our community inspired Connects Day organizers and the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. In the winter of 2008, YAPC members and co-chairs committed to hosting three Connects Day per year.
Whitehorse Connects has evolved organically since that first event in 2008. All but one of the 21 subsequent Connects Days have been held at the Old Fire Hall. Our doors open at 10 am, and we welcome guests until 2 p.m. Over time, our guests have defined what services are most important to them, and these have become our core services. Haircuts, portraits, physiotherapy (or massage), nursing outreach through foot care, blood pressure testing and immunizations are our current core services. Guests are offered free clothing to take away, comfort kits, snacks and a hot lunch. Local musicians volunteer to play live music all day.
But Connects is far more than the services offered. It is community at its best. It is a place where there is no distinction between service provider, volunteer and guest. All are welcome, and all are accepted for who they are. It is a room full of acceptance and love.
And it is a very full room. We welcome over 200 guests to every Connects Day, and our numbers are increasing. Our guests include a broad cross-section of Whitehorse: homeless people, the working poor, youth, elders, single parents, caregivers, new Canadians, First Nations, non-First Nations. It is a true picture of Whitehorse.
Those supporting Connects Day also represent a broad cross section of Whitehorse. Since 2008, over 100 businesses and organizations have supported Whitehorse Connects through in-kind or financial support. We have welcomed volunteers from all three high schools, MacCauley Lodge, the business community, all levels of government and the community at large. At an average of 20 volunteers per event, over 650 volunteers have given their time to Connects Day over the last seven years.
Connects continues to evolve and to grow. In February, YAPC, in partnership with the health promotion unit at the Department of Health and Social Services, offered a community kitchen in conjunction with Connects Day. Volunteers came together to cook shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese, and a variety of baked goods that were served at lunch. This initiative was so well received by guests and chefs alike that we plan to incorporate community kitchens into future Connects Days.
We have seen an increase in the number of young children and families attending Connects Days. In response to that shift, we are hosting our first Family Connects Day on March 8 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. Family Connects will offer the regular core services plus activities/services focused on children. We’ll have a snack making table, craft table and games area. The Whitehorse library is bringing a pop-up library. And pizza will play a large role in the lunch menu.
Thank you to our funders over the years including the Community Development Fund, the Health Investment Fund, United Way, TD Canada Trust, City of Whitehorse Festival and Special Events Fund , PSAC and the Yukon Energy Corporation. Whitehorse Connects is also supported through individual donors, fundraising campaigns and partnerships with Jazz Yukon, 100 Women Who Care and Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition events.
Connects continues to thrive and grow through the generous support and participation of so many individuals, organizations and businesses in our community. Thank you to all who have contributed to or participated in Connects Day as a volunteer, service provider, musician or guest. Our community is richer for it. Lives have been touched through it.
If you would like more information about Connects – or if you would like to participate in Family Connects on Tuesday, March 8 – please email Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org , message Whitehorse Connects on Facebook or call the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition at (867) 334-9317.
Kim Winnicky is a member of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and has been coordinating Whitehorse Connects since 2008.