Sometimes I take very few photos so that I can listen better. And sometimes I need to ponder at some length what I have heard and experienced. This story emerges from a confluence of those conditions.
Here’s the preface: There is a lot of enthusiasm in WR for our growing prosperity, particularly in the tech domain. Arguably, that corner of our ecosystem paid for a good deal of the house in which I live and for that I am grateful. Regular readers know I’m very much a tech native and this post takes nothing away from that whole engine of economic development, nor from the joys of making/hacking/exploring within that delightful playground. In my travels over the past seven years, deeper into corners of this community, I’ve made three observations and one hypothesis. O#1: The need here is far greater than I imagined. O#2: A lot of people exist well outside the tech sector. O#3: I don’ t know jack about real need. H#1: For us to be whole, we must rise together as a community. So I set out to further educate myself and sort out how I might help make things better.
In mid-July, I spent four days with folks from The Working Centre for the first iteration of their Summer Institute. If you’re not familiar with The Working Centre, they are a 33-year old organization rooted in downtown Kitchener providing services, job skills/connections, affordable housing and more to our in-need community members. They are, in my experience, the most effective street-level player in this domain, bar none. They also share many aspects of my own personal ethos around the maker movement including self-determination, supporting skill-development and creatively applying minimal resources for a common good.
The Summer Institute consisted of a series of discussions and site visits through which I gained a more comprehensive understanding of what The Working Centre is and why it does what it does. The where’s and how’s were interesting, but best of all for me was the who. Sessions and tours were led by Stephanie Mancini, Rebecca Mancini and Joe Mancini as well as Heather Montgomery. Full-timers Kayli, Nathan, Leanne and Connie spent most of the time with us. Martin joined in on the weekend. The class consisted of local people as well as some from other cities/provinces.
I became increasingly aware of The Working Centre over the past several years through several of their places/projects. The Queen Street Commons Café, shown above in an after-hours moment of rare quiet, is one of those places I frequent for great food, coffee, meetings and events.
Like all TWC (apologies for the acronym) places and programs, the Café serves a variety of purposes, none of which is maximizing profit. Ideally it sustains itself financially so that it can serve the social mission of the organization. It is a community gathering point where you can get warm, cool or dry depending on your needs. It is steered by Kayli and Amy and other full-time staff along with the help of many volunteers. For some volunteers it may be their first job, a place to learn employable skills. It may be a place to practise English if you’re new to the community. It is definitely a place to belong. The Café hosts movie nights on Fridays and sells handmade goods and fair-trade coffee. A plant-based menu is cooked up in Maurita’s Kitchen (another TWC instance) across the street and shuttled by foot to the Café all year long. Meal prices are set low to welcome all, regardless of income. While you wait for your coffee, you are as likely to see tech worker as you are to see someone carrying all their worldly possessions in a backpack. I’ve seen property developers, artists, activists, city staff and some of my favourite photographers there.
The simplest TL;DR is: go buy a coffee there and see what’s cookin’. The second thing you should know is that there is a lot more to The Working Centre than meets the eye. In four days, I felt like we had just scratched the surface. But start with the coffee.
Click through for a few more thoughts and a very modest number of photos…