CLIC graduates include Surrey resident Katheren Szabo, who will hold her 5th holiday singing party this week and is also part of a community group called Friends of the Grove. Among projects, the group painted messages of hope on small rocks for Downtown Eastsiders. More than 60 individuals from high schoolers to retirees have gone through the program to learn more about engaging with their community.

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Program empowers everyday citizens to be Community Leaders Igniting Change

December 12, 2018
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Making a mark on your community doesn’t require a university degree. But one university-based program is proving that communities stand to benefit when ideas of any kind are sparked by local residents.

Participants of SFU Surrey’s Envision Financial Community Leaders Igniting Change program, or CLIC, run the gamut— some are still in high school while some never completed it. Others are retired, or brand new to the community.

Starting its sixth cohort in January, CLIC has ‘graduated’ more than 60 individuals who live or work in Surrey. The common thread is that they are active, or wish to be involved, in making positive change in their community.

The CLIC program began as a simple idea among a handful of community players, leading to a partnership between SFU Surrey, the Surrey Poverty Reduction Coalition and Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union.

Over 12 weekly sessions, participants from 16 years of age to retirees learn about becoming leaders in their communities. Sessions include workshops, guest speakers and projects that are presented to the group.

Program coordinator Kathleen Burke, a senior lecturer at SFU‘s Beedie School of Business, says the program is aimed at those who already have a strong sense of community and are ready for the next step.

“This is about people wanting to get involved and make a difference but not necessarily knowing how, or where to start,” says Burke, one of the program’s co-founders. “We say, ‘this is the place, join us, meet others who feel the same way and let’s see where this can go’.”

For some participants it’s an emboldening experience; some have never stepped inside a university. The sessions can be as much about personal growth and sharing with others.

The program has a small fee of $75 and financial assistance is also available. Students who complete the program can also apply for $500 Spark grants, funded by Envision Financial, to pursue their community initiatives.

Recent graduate Katheren Szabo started giving back to her community years ago but wanted to learn how to do it more effectively. “I had lived here in Newton for 10 years before I decided to venture out and see what was going on in the neighborhood,” she recalls.

“Then when I saw so much suffering and loneliness I decided to throw a singing party for the holidays to bring people together. I’ve done that now for five years. I’ve realized that once you get started there’s no end to what we can do right in our own back yard.”

Szabo, who has since organized 25 different events, joined with two others who had started Friends of the Grove, a group dedicated to spending time with those who visit a park space in Newton. Earlier this year the group undertook a project called From Surrey with Love, painting hopeful messages on small rocks then delivering them to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Another recent graduate, Kue K’nyawmupoe, a Karen refugee from Myanmar, wanted to learn more about adaptive leadership so she could apply it to her volunteer work with one of B.C.’s Karen communities.

“Coming to Canada as a refugee, it took me a few years to adapt to a new culture and environment and although it seemed difficult when I was going through all these changes, I can honestly say it prepared me to face the challenges that come my way. I believe changes happen all the time; in our lives and at work. I can utilize the lessons I have learned from CLIC by remembering to look at a situation through a different lens.” 

SFU Surrey campus Executive Director Steve Dooley was among the program’s conceivers, together with Burke, former Surrey councillor Vera LeFranc, Alice Sunberg of the Anti-Poverty Coalition and Envision’s Susan Byrom.

“Everything about this program speaks to what we as a university aspire to be here in Surrey,” says Dooley. “Empowering and engaging the community translates into positive results for everyone.”

Susan Byrom, Envision Financial’s senior manager of community investment, adds:  “When you engage like-minded community ambassadors, amazing things can happen,” says “We’re proud of the CLIC program, its graduates and most importantly the positive change that it has had in our communities.”

The CLIC program is accepting new applicants until December 21. For more information see: http://surreyprc.ca/community-leaders-igniting-change/