By Jasmine Franklin
Ups and down, highlights and pitfalls — every community has them— but a discussion recently hosted by the United Way of Central Alberta put the spotlight on Ponoka’s needs and gaps.
A “community conversation” held March 25 at the Kinsmen Centre brought together about 30 members of the community to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Ponoka.
“It’s really nice to see our community and organizations together like this,” said Lynn Gray. “This is one of the first times this has happened.”
Participants were split into table groups of around five to brainstorm existing positive aspects within the community as well as areas that need improvement.
One problem that nearly every table agreed on was the need for organizations and clubs to better collaborate together.
“We need a whole collaboration of information,” Gray said. “We are too separated in our groups and we need to work closer.”
Mayor Larry Henkleman attended the meeting and told the Ponoka News that he agrees some sort of collaboration needs to be established.
“It’s important that we get our organizations united and working together,” Henkleman said. “We also need to address the problem of volunteerism as it is a very vital part of our society; we need more volunteers.”
Among the need for collaboration, another main issue was lack of transportation.
Mentioned as an “essential service,” it was made loud and clear at the meeting that with the loss of the Greyhound and limited driving services offered, transportation in Ponoka is not convenient for those looking to travel.
Groups also expressed concern for recent losses of full-time in-hospital security staff and the need to increase recruitment for younger generations into town.
Rebekah Seidel, community engagement plan facilitator for United Way Central Alberta, said once problems are recognized, a solution needs to be considered.
Part two of the conversation focused on potential solutions.
“How do we get from the positive elements of the community, the needs of the community and tie together that gap?” Seidel asked the group.
Participants suggested ideas of a community calendar and community centre where all events could be listed and meshed together in efforts to avoid double booking events.
In regards to transportation, Henkleman pitched an idea currently in the study stages that went over well.
“There is currently a study taking place on rural communities and their need for transportation,” Henkleman said. “Through the Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP), a route to take buses through rural communities of central Alberta is being examined.”
“This meeting really reinforced the fact that there is a transportation problem not only here, but throughout the rural province,” he said. “Some of the suggestions made here tonight will definitely be taken back to council.”
Heather Gardiner, Chief Executive Officer of United Way Central Alberta said this kind of interaction in a community is essential.
“Partnerships that are brought together like this are very powerful,” Gardiner said. “We came here to learn about you and help you begin a partnership process.”
For the first half of the two-hour conversation, the focus was geared toward the positives of Ponoka. Listed was the following:
• A friendly town with generous citizens
• Citizens On Patrol security
• Good medical facilities including the Centennial Centre
• Ample recreation opportunities
• The Ponoka Stampede and the attraction it draws
• Strong school systems
• Support services such as FCSS and the Youth Centre
• Various senior housing
Seidel said Ponoka had the largest turnout of the four communities that the project has visited so far.
The United Way of Central Alberta’s “Journey of Community Conversations” project aims to improve lives and build communities through collective action.
Seidel said this first round of meetings are intended to gather information and recognize key problems to be addressed.
Throughout March and April, the group will also host conversations in Clearwater County, Lacombe, Stettler, Sundre and Sylvan Lake.
Returning to Ponoka April 27 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., United Way will reflect back to participants to ensure they’ve understood clearly everything the community had to say.
“We aren’t sure where the information gathering will take us,” Seidel said. “Our action will determine solely on what we learn about the needs and gaps of each community.”