Building Belonging: Every Step CountsMonday, October 3rd, 2016 | JP Nikota
As we continue our Vital Signs exploration on belonging and connection to community, we’re sharing stories of how community foundations across Canada are actively building belonging in their communities. Check out our second of three Belonging: Exploring Connection to Community reports released on October 2, 2016 that explores the connection between social participation and belonging.
It was 2012, and Michael Cameron was new in town.
He had just moved to Victoria, British Columbia from a small community in Alberta, where he had been staying in a treatment centre for substance abuse for the last four weeks. After using alcohol and various drugs for over 20 years, he had become “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
He didn’t know anyone in Victoria, but he did know that if he stayed in Alberta that he would fall back into old habits with old friends. He needed a change, but he wasn’t sure how he could go about building a new life in an unfamiliar place.
Cameron recalled one of the other clients at the recovery house telling him about an interesting organization that helped get people back on their feet. A place where he wouldn’t have to fear being judged for his past. They promised to help him get his bearings in the city by getting him out walking in the fresh air and even promised to buy him a new pair of shoes if he kept coming back.
Every Step Counts is an initiative started by the Victoria Foundation and run by the Victoria Cool Aid Society designed to help people experiencing barriers and challenges related to housing, mental health, and addiction. Recruits and volunteers meet twice a week to walk, run, and, perhaps most importantly, meet and support other people who are facing similar situations.
“When I started, I was dead-set against running. I was an anti-runner,” recalls Cameron. “I’ll get my shoes and just leave,” he remembers thinking. “But then I got my shoes and I’d made some friends in the program, and I thought ‘well I don’t want to quit now’.”
Increasingly, Cameron found that being more active suited him quite well. Instead of being planted in front of a TV, he was learning about the city, learning about other services that were available, and also getting into good shape. He had gone from just walking to participating more actively in the runs.
“After being in the program a couple years, I tried a little bit of running and entered into my first race in April, 2010 – a 10k race.”
“My mood is better, just from getting out and exercising … interacting with people in a positive way. Free shoes of course, is also one of my favourite things.”
Another participant in the program who has come to be friends with Cameron is Jeremy Cockerill. He arrived at Every Step Counts in similar circumstances. Cockerill had been living on the streets, “just getting by, not being a part of society … but it wasn’t living.”
These days, Cockerill is training for a half marathon, and his newfound passion for running is starting to spill over into other parts of his life. “I have a sense of self-worth, just being a part of something that I actually believe in … so it makes me feel good about being down there. I never felt that I belonged at school or in other government systems … but [Every Step Counts] makes me feel like I’m a part of something.”
That feeling of belonging to a group has made a lot of other things in his life seem possible. “It’s helped me get back into school … when you see what other people are doing and the healthy lives they’re living, … I’m really ready to go back and try.”
“Just to be down there and not feel so lonely is a huge thing. I feel part of something.”