4 min

Our dream community centre is feasible

'If we demonstrate the maturity, professionalism and unity to achieve it'

When my partner and I arrived in Vancouver a decade ago, we felt fortunate to immerse ourselves in the welcoming gay village and be introduced to The Centre as the community hub.

We were told, back then, that we would soon have a brand new community centre to replace the second-floor space that still exists today.

As we got more involved in the community, joined boards and volunteered our time, we discovered that the promise of a new community centre has been floating around since the very early 1990s.

My career in Vancouver has taken me down some interesting paths, always with a community focus. Over the past three years, I have been working in the Jewish community.

There are many similarities between our two communities: persecution through the ages, our battles for equal rights and the fact that we still come under attack because of who we are. But when it comes to community organization, we are far apart.

I have learned so much about what a community can really achieve when it works together for common good.

There are two amazing things that represent to me the success of the Jewish community in Metro Vancouver: a state-of-the-art community centre complex and the Jewish Federation.

The Jewish Community Centre is the hub of life and the genuine centre of the community.

The Federation is an umbrella organization that raises and allocates funds for 27 partner organizations. Yes, 27 local organizations work together and fundraise under a single umbrella, supporting social and advocacy services, an education system, arts and culture, sports and every important community project.

There are challenges, of course, and conflicts and even power struggles when 27 community organizations work together. But by focusing on the common good and realizing that self-interest is mutual interest, this system has worked superbly for half a century.

Visit the Jewish Community Centre on 41st Ave if you get a chance, so you can visualize what a community centre can look like. There is a 320-seat theatre, a massive banquet hall, a cafeteria with catering services, a youth lounge, a seniors lounge, an art gallery, a library, an archives and museum, offices for community organizations, meeting rooms, a sports complex with a swimming pool, a full-size gym, a full-size basketball court, squash court, a women’s and a men’s spa and the list goes on.

For quite a while I have been asking myself why we can’t have something like this in our GLBT community? The answer is that we can have our own dream community centre, if we are sensible enough to learn from the successes of others, including GLBT community centres around North America with similar facilities, and other cultural groups.

I thank Xtra West for inviting me to share my Jewish agency experience at the community forum that they initiated in July. I arrived at that meeting pumped with positive energy to develop the Big Vision of what we can have and, at first, I thought everyone in the room saw the light.

My enthusiasm was crushed when, following the electrifying reports from each table about what they would love to see in a dream community centre, a prominent community member took the microphone.

He waved the feasibility study that was conducted by Qmunity (formerly The Centre) two years ago and stated that the dream outlined in this study would cost $10 million — and then declared this a far-fetched dream that we cannot accomplish.

That was my eureka moment: this is the attitude that has left us without a real community centre for so long! 

I could go into detail on fundraising opportunities, but this is probably not the place or time. But it is hard to imagine that all three levels of government would not provide some funding, many foundations have grant opportunities and, most important, our own community members will step up if we demonstrate the maturity, professionalism and unity to achieve it.

Qmunity does amazing work as an advocacy agency and social service provider. We should applaud their achievements over the years and support their work wholeheartedly. We want Qmunity to continue providing these vital services and to expand them.

It is unfair and unreasonable of our community to expect Qmunity to undertake a massive community-building capital project like a community centre all by itself while trying to operate their full services simultaneously.

We are simply asking and expecting too much of them; in no other community would such a massive undertaking fall on the shoulders of a small community organization focused on advocacy and social services.

Major projects like this one require all stakeholders to unite from the outset to conceptualize, plan, build and maintain. The collaboration of stakeholders, skilled professionals and experienced leaders, in my opinion, should form a new organization with a mandate to create and maintain our new community centre facility.

It is understandable that some community members will be uncomfortable at any encroachment on Qmunity’s turf and years of hard work. Rightly so. The pioneers of this community, who have brought Qmunity to where we are today, must be welcomed as key partners to realize this immense achievement.

But they must be joined by a much larger and broader spectrum of the community, including those who have, to date, not supported or been as involved as they could be.

Ultimately, this discussion must not be about anyone’s turf, egos or power — this is about doing the right thing for our community and our future.

Together we can create a different structure that truly enables the full inclusion of the community in the project’s development, including Pride, other community service agencies, arts, sports and health groups, small businesses and educational agencies, in addition to skilled and experienced professionals and passionate leaders.

One proposal I heard was for a few thousand square feet of offices in a new development in the village. Is that what we really want for the future? We can dare to dream bigger.

We are all very proud of the years of hard work Qmunity has put into this project. Their organization, board and members have done feasibility studies and much of the groundwork. Now, let’s build on that foundation together, in a wider forum, and make a bigger vision — a reality that reflects Vancouver’s position as a capital of global gay culture and community.