Lessons From Buffalo

Like so many days in this job, yesterday was both fun and educational. I spent it in Buffalo touring a number of sites that reinforced both the promise and the problems facing this struggling but beautiful Rustbelt city. My co-pilot for the trip was Graham Crawford, who shares my love of cities and is a thoughtful and passionate believer in Hamilton. Check out Kathy Renwald’s excellent piece on Graham’s “curating” of his gracious south-west Hamilton home in today’s Spec ( http://www.thespec.com/living/style/article/583439–stately-home-in-the-right-hands).

Our host and tour guide for the day was my old friend Bruce Fisher. Bruce is now a professor at Buffalo State and widely published and respected author,  but previously served as Deputy County Executive (City Manager) in Erie County. (look for Bruce’s soon to be released book Borderland http://www.sunypress.edu/p-5347-borderland.aspx,  a fascinating series of essays on the challenges of Great Lakes Cities on both sides of the border including Hamilton)

Among the many sites we visited yesterday, the high point may well have been the Fontana Boathouse, a remarkable Frank Lloyd Wright designed structure that now serves as a home for the West Side Rowing Club, welcoming the public and capitalizing upon Buffalo’s extraordinary architectural history (check it out herehttp://www.wrightsboathouse.org/building.html) .

We had a great discussion about some of the common challenges facing Buffalo and Hamilton and particularly lessons that we can take-both good and bad-from some public policy decisions that have shaped Buffalo’s recent history (here are some thoughts on that subject from an old Spec column of mine)

April 11 2009 Lesson our politicians can learn from Buffalo.

An HCF milestone

A very proud moment for us at HCF happened last week when we issued the first loan from our Community Investment Fund! For those who don’t know, HCF established a Community Investment Fund with $5 million of its unrestricted funds. Find more on community investing link here

In HCF’s case, the first loan has been made to Hamilton Artists Inc. a long-standing artist-run centre that “supports and reflects the diverse environment in which we live”. HCF provided HAI with a bridge loan while they worked to complete the construction of their new building at the corner of James and Cannon. Have you seen it yet? If not, prepare yourself for a stunning transformation at one of Hamilton’s most visible corners!

While it is HCF who has ‘made’ this loan, it is in fact a team effort. Critical support and expertise was provided by Nora Sobolov and her colleagues at the Community Forward Fund. And staff, volunteers and board members at HAI were diligent and responsive throughout this process. Their comments embody why HCF is committed to this project and to the premise of community investing.

“Thank you to the whole team at the Hamilton Community Foundation for supporting this project and enabling our confidence and security to restart the project and complete it with your loan providing the capacity to do so.”

With many other potential community investment opportunities emerging, I look forward to sharing here more stories of HCF using its assets in unique ways to support positive change in Hamilton.

Heart of Hamilton at Heart of the Hammer

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many people who are committed to making their neighbourhoods safe, quality places to live, work and play.  One of these people is Rebecca Doll – volunteer extraordinaire in the South Sherman hub and owner of the “Heart of the Hammer” café at King and Sherman.

I knew that Rebecca had the café for quite some time, but never had the chance to visit until this week.  Suzanne Brown and I were doing a walkabout in the area and stumbled across the café.  The timing was great since by this time we were dying for a cup of tea.  What a lovely surprise to find this oasis tucked within a street that is obviously going through difficult times.  From the bright and cheery art on the walls to the comfy couch and chairs, there is truly a sense of community in the café.  It is a gathering spot for neighbours and friends to hear music, discuss their aspirations for their neighbourhood and enjoy the most wonderful brownies I’ve ever had.

If you are looking for somewhere to ease the stress of the day, grab a coffee or light lunch, stop in – and give my best to Rebecca.   More information is available atwww.heartofthehammer.wordpress.com.

Reflections from an Anthem Singer

Here in beautiful Montreal, my mind is a constant swirl of thoughts and conference experiences, so I will try to tame some of my swirl here on this blog.
As a first time attendee at the annual international conference of IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals), my overwhelming thought so far is Wow. Wow. Wow.  Dedicated administrative professionals from all over the world have gathered in Montreal for professional development and leadership advancement.  We’ve all heard the phrase “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.”  With more than 1,000 conference attendees from around the globe, I am surrounded by friends.  Smiling, friendly faces at every turn, people from close and from afar, every one eager to reach out to shake hands (which usually quickly turns into a hug), introduce themselves, and to share some of their own conference swirl.
This weekend, I had the honour of participating in the conference opening ceremony in my role as the anthem singer.  I’ve been rehearsing back at home in Hamilton over the last many weeks.  For reasons that make sense to me, I did most of my practising in the car by myself as I went back and forth to work, and I tended to crank it up at stoplights.  The other drivers around me must have assumed that I was singing along with the radio’s top 40…bet not one of them would ever guess that I was singing O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner!
Each time I sang, I used mental imagery to try to visualize what it would feel like to stand on stage in front of all of those people and sing the anthems.  I tried to imagine what I’d be feeling as I sang, the weight of the microphone in my hand, what the listeners would be feeling, what I would see as I looked out in the audience.  And there was, of course, the ever present question of what I should wear.
The most important part of my prep, though, was finding the right instrumental accompaniment tracks.  It’s much like when you shop for a new outfit – you definitely know what you’re not looking for, and you’ll know the right one when you find it – it will just speak to you.  After many hours searching through iTunes, the internet and the library collection, I was so excited to come across what I felt were the two perfect back tracks.  The track for the Canadian anthem was a very simple but beautiful guitar piece, and its simplicity puts the focus on the words.  Yes, that one would be perfect.  The Star Spangled Banner piece actually contained no music at all; it was an acapella track with very tight and very beautiful five-part harmonies.   Yes, I think that one would be perfect too.   Both were unique, but stayed true to the anthems.
I arrived in Montreal early Saturday morning, went straight into two half-day professional development workshops, followed by a first timers’ orientation session.  A very busy day, but a good day.  Then it was time to go for my sound check and music rehearsal.  I walked into this huge ballroom, where chairs for 1,000+ people were organized theatre style.  The stage was beautifully set up with a purple/teal/green theme through lighting and curtains.  I met the members of the production team from Nashville who were there to handle all of the music, lighting, microphones, etc.  They were wonderful to work with, very good at what they do, and I felt that I was in really good hands.  I had an opportunity to do two run throughs.  It felt right and I felt ready for the next day’s ceremony.  It was only later that evening that an IAAP friend pointed out to me that I had gone through my day with my shirt on inside out.  Yes, stood on that stage and did my thing, not once realizing that my tags were on the outside.  I’m still laughing about that one.
Sunday morning arrived, and it was time for the opening ceremony.  Found myself back stage with the enthusiastic flag bearers as we waited for “the moment”.  We were all excited to be taking part in the opening ceremony.  We could hear the buzz in the room as people hugged their old and new friends, and made their way to their seats.  The energy in the room was absolutely palpable!  Then it was time.  Time for a couple more deep breaths (and one last check to make sure my shirt was not on inside out-LOL!).  The ceremony started with the Parade of Nations, with great fanfare and with great affection for each of the flag bearers as they brought the various national flags onstage to thunderous applause.  The Mounties escorted and presented the Canadian and US flags on stage, and then it was anthem time.
I walked out to my spot on stage, in front of those 1,000+ people, took one last deep breath in the spotlight, and the music started.  From the very first note, it was a moment in time that I will never forget.  The music soared across the room.  These were our anthems, with words ever meaningful.  People stood, with their hands over their hearts.  Cameras flashed across the room, reminding me of flickering candles.  The music continued to soar.  As the last notes faded away, the room erupted in applause.  All of my rehearsing did not prepare me for the power of that moment, as each one of us lived the anthems together.  Wow. Wow. Wow.
As the business portion of the meeting started and I quietly made my way from back stage over to my delegate seat, a woman in the audience stood up and gave me the one of the tightest hugs I’ve ever had.  She had tears in her eyes and it was clear that the anthem had great personal meaning to her.  I was so touched, and I wish I knew who it was who was hugging me (it was dark where we were standing and I couldn’t read her name tag).  If you were that lovely lady, please know that your hug at that moment was so special and I will always remember that you reached out.
Since that morning, I have been surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful comments and warm hugs.   Everyone speaks the language of music.  I continue to be humbled and honoured to have been part of that opening ceremony and to have been able to represent my country in this very special way.
I will return to the office and to my staff role at HCF later this week with new learnings gleaned from the fabulous educational sessions and parliamentary procedures that I have been part of at this conference, and with a renewed energy for my work with the CEO, management team, Board of Directors and my awesome HCF staff colleagues.
And I will return with an amazing life highlight experience tucked safely in my memory bank.

A pedestrian’s perspective

This week, with two cars and three drivers in the house, I have been walking from my house near the Mountain brow to my office downtown.

What a difference in perspective from my usual driveway-to-driveway experience!

From the top of James Street stairs overlooking a bustling city and a gorgeous harbour, past St. Joseph’s Hospital, the eager patrons at Steve’s Open Kitchen (voted #1 breakfast in town),  the beautiful architecture of the terraces, James Street Baptist, St. Paul’s, the old Bank of Montreal and the Landed Bank and Loan Building, on into Gore Park, it provided a whole new and more insightful view of some of Hamilton’s better and lesser-known assets – and a great start to the day.

Proud to be Canadian and more…..

Today as I write this, it is hard to believe that my husband and I were part of the 300,000+ crowd on Parliament Hill celebrating our country’s 144th birthday. We were part of that sea of diversity, all wearing red and white, each of us waving Canadian flags.

One of the highlights of that afternoon celebration was hearing our Governor General David Johnston’s address. He said, “I want all of you to look at your neighbourhoods, your communities and this country, and ask yourselves what you want Canada to look like”. He went on to invite all Canadians to share his vision of “a Canada where families and children are supported and given the chance to thrive; where learning and innovation are strengthened to provide for a prosperous tomorrow; where volunteerism and philanthropy are encouraged as part of our daily routine.”

I have to say that my own personal pride swelled knowing that my city, my Hamilton, has embraced working towards making our city the best place to raise a child.

It swelled even more knowing that since 2004 Hamilton Community Foundation has been working towards reducing our city’s unacceptable poverty rates using a neighbourhood-based approach. Yes, we have much to be proud of.

I encourage you to read His Excellency David Johnson`s full address. I hope you too accept his invitation.

And, by the way, we did get a great photo of Will & Kate!

Staff member’s reflections following our AGM

It’s not my usual practice to blog. However, following our June 21st AGM, I am choosing today to step out of my own personal “comfort zone” to do so.

There was an amazing spirit and sense of warmth around the table and once again I find myself counting my blessings to be part of the HCF family.

While all the expressions of thanks were more than well deserved, there was one acknowledgement, in particular, that truly resonated with me. It was Dr. Lindsey George’s thank you to our tiny but mighty force here at HCF…. Sharon Charters!

On June 13th I celebrated my 10th anniversary with HCF.  During these ten years I have had the extreme good fortune and pleasure to work directly with Sharon.  Not only is she one of the most loyal colleagues I have ever known, she is truly a gem in Hamilton’s crown.  There isn’t a program in Hamilton that Sharon isn’t aware of, a co-ordinator that she hasn’t met, or a participant that she hasn’t helped or encouraged.

So, Sharon, 10 years later I cannot tell you what an important person you have been in my life, both professionally and personally.

Hamilton is lucky to have you…and so are we!!!