Erica Howes is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.
Rawlson King is a community leader and advocate in the Overbrook neighbourhood and the latest Community Builder Award recipient. He was surprised with an award on Saturday, April 21 at the Overbrook Community Centre during their pancake breakfast by presenter Stefan Keyes.
Rawlson is president of the Overbrook Community Association, and led the organization when it organized and fundraised a successful community musical project last year that brought together 60 cast members and more than 120 volunteers to entertain nearly 800 people. Learnings from this project will be used to help other high-need neighbourhoods stage community musicals across Ontario to help strengthen social cohesion.
Rawlson is also a volunteer board member and treasurer at the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, a Past President of Gallery 101 and a volunteer board member at Proactive Education for All Children’s Enrichment, which manages an after-school program at the Overbrook Community Centre—to name a few of his many volunteer positions.
On the Saturday morning of the Community Builder Award presentation, the Overbrook Community Centre was bustling. There were brightly coloured signs for a kid’s book fair, a youth program, and a pancake breakfast. Rawlson said when a news outlet calls, it’s usually about a shooting or youth crime. Looking around, he said he hopes Ottawa can see this side of Overbrook, too—the hub that brings people out on a Saturday morning to eat pancakes, to have kids play with their classmates and to welcome everyone in the neighbourhood as part of the greater community.
We sat down with Rawlson to talk about his motivations for giving back, especially in his own neighbourhood.
Apt613: Why is it important for you to give back in the Overbrook area?
Rawlson King: When you come to a community where we have a high concentration of social housing and 50 per cent of kids who live in that housing are in poverty, there’s a lot of work to be done. I started working with Rockcliffe Resource Centre and then I realized it creates greater links and resource sharing if I sit on other boards, so I joined the Overbrook Community Association and the Proactive Education for All Children’s Enrichment (PEACE). It’s been building from there.
This is our community, we will take ownership over it.
Just a block away a few weeks ago we had a shooting incident down the street, around the time when kids are getting off the school bus. When you get into situations like that, you really need people to step up and say, “This is our community, we will take ownership over it.” That’s personally important to me, and that’s why we’re now trying to create long-term solutions to address these systemic issues.
What advice do you give young people who want to get involved in their neighbourhood?
Don’t be afraid to join a community association. Often people think of community associations of things that deal with property issues or city infrastructure but community associations can also be an entryway in dealing with improving social conditions. Out of necessity, we have to deal with issues of public safety, poverty alleviation, education and that’s where we need more young people to help set the agenda for the neighbourhood and help with long-term plans.
Improving the quality of life and services that are available for youth is one of our key goals in Overbrook because we know that, unfortunately, youth are responsible for about 60 per cent of crime, especially property crime. We’re working on a ward strategy to give young people in the neighbourhood greater access to job training and recreational activities. That’s why we have have family events, kids sports teams practice here every week and teen programs—it’s important for young people to feel positively engaged.
Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.