People of SFU: Meet Tara Flynn, Coordinator of Civic and Community Engagement and Director of the Burnaby Festival of Learning

May 06, 2021

Meet Tara Flynn, Coordinator of Civic and Community Engagement for SFU’s Office of Community Engagement and Director of the Burnaby Festival of Learning. Flynn is responsible for strengthening community and civic partnerships in Burnaby that address critical societal issues and contribute to community connection, capacity building and community resiliency.

No pressure, right?

Flynn’s team characterizes her as a shining example of SFU’s community engagement values: showing great care for relationships; offering others her respect and trust; valuing diverse perspectives; creating and enabling equitable partnerships; striving to use sustainable approaches; and utilizing community engagement to value and bring together different forms of knowledge, both from within the university and from society as a whole.

And her idealism is certainly having an impact. Her caring, relationship-first approach has resulted in many vibrant, thought-provoking and community/university-led initiatives that have positively affected the lives of many students, staff and community members.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first took root in our communities, Flynn was one of the first to respond. Her work resulted in a collaborative alliance among Burnaby community members, Telus, and SFU staff who together helped get vulnerable communities online during the COVID-19 emergency by organizing a total donation of 100 phones and 20 tablets that was distributed through community partner organizations like MOSAIC, Burnaby Youth Hub, Dixon Transition House, Burnaby Hospice Society, Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, Byrne Creek Community School, Cameray Child and Family Services, Progressive Housing and Homeless Society, Options Community Services, and the SFU Surrey TD Community Engagement Centre.

Soon after, Flynn turned her focus to the effect that the pandemic was having on food security.  She applied for and received an SFU Community Engagement Initiative grant that allowed her to work with partners to pilot a food hub on SFU’s Burnaby campus to provide university students with access to food. Together with the Burnaby Neighbourhood House, the United Way Local Love Food Hubs program and the Simon Fraser Student Society, Flynn worked to  open the doors of the initial food hub in August, 2020 that paved the way for a secondary food hub pilot project later in the year. In February and March of 2021 the partnership was renewed in the form of the Burnaby Food Hub Collaborative which offered a bi-weekly grocery card to 80 SFU students experiencing food insecurity.

Flynn’s team jumped at this chance to shine a light on her work. But in her own words, Flynn says it’s the power of working together: “Knowing that you have just experienced something transformative with others – joy, wonder, amazement, sadness, bewilderment – the spectrum of human emotion and our capacity for multiplicity within these experiences, is a profound result of community engagement.”

SFU News asked Flynn a few questions about her work:

What’s the best part of doing this work?

The best part of this work is the moment at which the spark of an idea ignites between partners, and you know that what you are co-creating can be of real service and value to many others. The second-best part is learning from what worked and didn't, and building onto that knowledge for the next project!

How can this work be challenging?

This work can be challenging when bridging diverse perspectives or beliefs about what is possible. In this work, one must be open and receptive to divergent opinion and desire for a project to move ahead and to listen wholly to what is being asked of the partnership. Strong and consistent communication can be tiring when working on long-term projects in which there is flux. 

What’s one goal that you have that is completely non-work-related?

To purchase twenty acres of land, build my own sustainable home, grow food, keep bees, have an art and movement studio, and build private space for my nearest and dearest to retreat to. The first documentary film I ever created was called, "Dirty Hippie," and it explored the complex relationship I have with my parents who raised me at the tail end of the Hippie era. I've integrated some of that generation's idealistic approach to nature and philosophy, clearly!

This is a story in our People of SFU series, where we’re celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn. You can read more stories here.

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