REFRACTION: Let's trade the political drama for real-world love

As a contributing columnist, it's always hard to see a great news story you’d love to sink your teeth into pass you by, but when your deadline is Wednesday morning and images of the Prime Minister in “brownface” don’t surface until that afternoon, you’ve irrevocably missed that particular boat.

By the time your chance comes around, pretty much everything you would want to say has already been said in some capacity. While joining the cacophony of voices hollering about a political dramatization of an important social issue is always an option, the nice thing about everyone already saying everything about the biggest news story of the week is that it frees us up to talk about the seemingly smaller things that actually matter just as much.

I recently exited a career with a media corporation and went out on my own as an entrepreneur. Part of my motivation for making that transition was my desire to work more closely with the people and causes I care about who are making a substantial and positive impact on the lives of vulnerable individuals every day. Telling the news and communicating what’s going on in the world is necessary and important work that I will always respect, but actually being the change I want to see in this world began to appeal to me on a very fundamental level.

With the opioid crisis raging, needles piling up on our river banks, the homeless population continuing to increase and the employment rate taking a downturn in British Columbia, I believe we are all responsible to do what we can, and I felt that I could do more.

Part of my new work has been with United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo (TNC). The more I’ve learned through years of volunteering for United Way about their vast expanse of their work, the more compelled I have felt to support their vision and impact.

Two weeks ago United Way TNC and some of our partners moved into a new location in North Kamloops called the Xchange. The vision for this incredible space is to consolidate resources for non-profits, create collaborative environments and opportunities for businesses and the community and develop a social enterprise structure that can generate income to offset overhead costs. This new model has the potential to create a new path forward for non-profits, many of which are currently struggling to survive in an economy that is softening while the margins and needs of its demographic increase.

It goes without saying that the items on the “to-do” lists for this kind of project are endless and only seemed more insurmountable in the looming shadow of an AGM, a fundraising campaign kickoff and (for me) on-boarding in a new position and sector.

The weeks leading up to the night we welcomed members of the community into the Xchange for the first time at our open house was, let’s not mince words, madness. With only hours to go, wires hanging from the ceiling, furniture still to be assembled and tradesmen actively working in the building, I felt like I couldn’t possibly handle one more thing... and that’s when my new colleague, Amy, suddenly said, “What if we made posters welcoming the Four Directions kids so they’ll know that we want this to feel like home? Everyone from the AGM and open house could sign them tonight with kind messages!”

Posters? While we were preparing to entertain our stakeholders, board members and important community members, Amy wanted to make posters so kids would feel welcome?

It stopped me in my tracks.

Katie NeustaeterKatie Neustaeter writes a welcome message to Four Directions students. (via Kent Wong/Contributed).

I had been running around, checking things off my list and basically channeling every stressed-out Mother on Christmas Eve combined, while Amy (an incredibly hard worker who also had a million things to do) stopped to consider what was most important; the small acts of love that can fill in the huge gaps of this world.

After Parkcrest Elementary School burned down earlier this month in Kamloops, a number of programs were also displaced in order for the young children to be able to stay together when moved to an alternate location. One of those programs was the Four Directions Secondary School, which provides *an alternate learning environment designed to serve secondary students of Aboriginal ancestry who are more likely to succeed in a smaller, more personal and flexible setting.

Welcoming those youths was a perfect opportunity for the Xchange building to begin fulfilling its ultimate purpose of ensuring that every member of our community knows that they are seen and matter, but Amy reminded me to also ask myself, “Of what benefit is any of the ‘good work’ we do if done without love?”

Politics matter, but they aren’t all that matters. At the end of the day, the brownface news story should have really been about what happens when we fail to be sensitive to the ways that our actions impact others and the importance of considering the perspectives of others, and it never should have been cheapened by using it as a well-timed political ploy during a federal election.

When the Four Directions kids and their teachers read those posters, they knew that they were seen, welcome and cared for, reminding us that the small things we do to show each other love are the things that will make all the difference.

It turns out we don’t need another Trudeau blunder in order to talk about making a difference in the world; we just need to listen to the Amys.

To support the work United Way TNC does, visit https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=127303&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=direct%2fnone.

*language taken from the Four Directions website.

Katie Neustaeter is a professional writer with a background in broadcasting and owner of Refraction Communications. Katie is also a multiple Kamloops Readers Choice award winner in categories including Influencer, Volunteer and Personality. She also really loves candy. As a community advocate who is passionately engaged in her region, Katie explores a wide range of topics in her column Refraction with the purpose of promoting healthy public discourse.

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