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Photos courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses is filling in the gaps

By Stephanie Dong on July 25, 2018

Stephanie Dong is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Awards 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.

“When somebody comes through the door, we don’t know if that’s going to mean ‘would you have a loaf of bread?’; ‘I’ve run out of diapers, I don’t know what to do for my baby’; or it might be ‘I have a really serious immigration issue.’”

Every day, Barbara Carroll gets up and goes to work at the Debra Dynes Family House—one of the 15 Community Houses that make up the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses. Here, she and her team experience a multitude of challenges as they try to address problems those in low-income housing may be facing. Whether you are a single mother seeking assistance for your child, a young man in search of employment advice or a teen looking for a safe space, Ottawa’s Community Houses help people from diverse backgrounds find success without having to leave their neighbourhood to access support.

“Everybody has potential, but not everybody has opportunities.”

Originally established in 1998 as a means to exchange information and provide mutual support for staff and volunteers, the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses is a network of agencies working together to support and serve low-income families across the city. Offering communal kitchens, social programs, community engagement and access to everyday essentials, each of the 15 Community Houses is at the forefront of change in their respective neighbourhoods.

“This is the community I grew up in,” says Mohamed Sofa. “When I was in my early teens, I moved into Britannia Woods.” Not knowing much about community houses, Mohamed’s initial interaction was through sports, but, as he explains “from there, you grow.”

Now the Executive Director of the Britannia Woods Community House, Mohamed sees the small social service hub as a vital part of the neighbourhood.

A unique approach to community building

“I think the Coalition of Community Houses is quite unique in the way it works,” says Barbara. Each Community House provides residents with a variety of social services that foster a greater sense of belonging. They also work together because, as Barbara explains, it “allows us to leverage for programs and services right across the 15 houses.”

On May 31, 2018, the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses was celebrated by United Way Ottawa at their annual Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala. The Coalition was the recipient of the esteemed Community Builder of the Year Award.

This award is presented to a person or organization who has contributed tremendously to the improvement of the lives of those in our community. Recipients exemplify United Way’s core values in the work they do every day as they consistently give, are never afraid to speak up and always take action on behalf of others.

By providing mentorship, emotional support, and basic necessities to anyone who enters their doors, the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses consistently emulates this ideal.

“We like to fill in those gaps, and see if we can create opportunities.”

It’s because of the hard work of people like Barbara, a bright-eyed woman with a heart of gold, that people like Mohamed, an intelligent young man with ambition, can be who they want to be. The Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses has helped open doors for people of all genders, ages, incomes and races, and continues to have an immense impact on the Ottawa community.

“It really is just as simple as being a constant support to people in places where it is really needed,” says Barbara. “We really like to see the successes.”

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.