Together Vaughan: Celebrating Community in Difficult Times

Angela, from Pierre Berton Resource Library, and her daughters Maya and Kara, created this beautiful wall chalk art outside their homes to express their gratitude and thoughts on COVID-19. #TogetherVaughan

I’ve been thinking a lot about what community means. How do we define community? What brings communities together during times of hardship?

I’ve seen a lot of people uniting for the greater good lately. From demonstrations of appreciation for frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, to peaceful protests against systemic anti-black racism and police violence. Our communities refuse to back down. We are strong, resilient, and we won’t stop fighting for justice.

Community isn’t just a group of people inhabiting the same place. Community is about solidarity, empathy, and respect. It’s about acknowledging the often invisible ties that link us all. To be a member of a community is to be a member of a team — something greater than yourself. You can’t spell community without unity.

I will be the first person to admit that I live in a bubble. I’ve lived in the same building for 5 years and I can’t even say I know the names of my neighbours. I stick to the same small circle of friends that I’ve known for years, rarely leaving my comfort zone. I end up spending a lot of time solo, ruminating on my own problems. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in this. We have become a ‘me’ culture following our ego and its agenda. This kind of lifestyle can leave us feeling empty, disconnected, and depressed. The more I read up on this topic, the more I learn that in helping others, you are helping yourself. Lending our time, support, and skills to those in need fills our soul with feelings of contentment and happiness, while providing a much-needed reprieve from our own self-dialogue.

In the spirit of community, I invite you to visit Together Vaughan, a portal designed in support of community wellness to keep you engaged and living your best life, regardless of circumstances. Here you will find access to resources to enrich your well-being, find the help you need, and discover ways to help others. If you have some good news stories of your own, spread the positivity by using #TogetherVaughan in your social media stories. Together, we stand united.

Did you know that reading fiction has been said to increase people’s empathy? I encourage you to explore the selection of titles below featuring unforgettable stories of communities who triumph over adversity. Most are available in digital form, however, if you prefer a physical copy, Vaughan Public Libraries has you covered with curbside pickup at select branches.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas‘ immensely popular, multiple award-winning novel, The Hate U Give, tells the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter. Caught between two worlds – the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends – Starr navigates an uneasy balance. When her childhood best friend Kalil is shot and killed at the hands of a police officer, Starr is the only witness. She must decide whether to speak up. As Starr is pushed to an increasingly more public role, tensions arise with her white boyfriend Chris and Starr’s prep school friends. Starr’s agency, strength, and refusal to back down highlight the importance of dissolving boundaries in the fight for racial justice. The movie adaptation also stands up well to its source material.

A Man Called OveIn A Man Called Ove, grumpy retiree Ove spends most of his time yelling at neighbourhood children and enforcing community rules. Nothing can please this lone ranger, whose friendless days are filled patrolling his community and visiting his wife’s grave. Ove never quite recovered from the loss of his wife and he’s now become determined to join her. But all that changes when a new family moves next door, transforming Ove’s life forever. Fredrik Backman‘s novel is a powerful and heartfelt narrative demonstrating the incredible transformative impact of human relationships. Catch the equally moving movie adaptation on Hoopla!

The Help

Set in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, The Help chronicles the lives of two distinct social classes of women: wealthy white Southerners and the black maids who work for them. Through the voices of Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny, readers are introduced to an America steeped in prejudice, hypocrisy, and downright contempt for its black inhabitants. When the maids of Jackson team up with Skeeter to tell their stories, the outcome is nothing short of miraculous.

Kathryn Stockett does an excellent job of capturing the viewpoints of her characters, breathing life into them with rich detail, humour, and compassion. This memorable and touching story will have you laughing out loud and wishing swift redemption for the oppressed. An inspiring novel that has garnered much well-deserved attention. The movie is also fantastic and definitely worth a watch!

And the Mountains EchoedWhat does it mean to be a human? This emotional and unforgettable novel, by beloved author Khaled Hosseini, begins with the story of ten-year-old Abdullah and his three-year-old sister Pari. When their father decides to sell Pari to a childless couple in Kabul, Abdullah resolves to leave Afghanistan, eventually traveling to the United States. And the Mountains Echoed is a novel about the interconnectedness of all human beings, with many of the characters choosing compassion over selfishness. It is also a poignant reminder of the endurance of familial love.

It Takes A VillageHillary Clinton‘s children’s picture book, It Take a Village, tells a heartwarming story about a diverse community coming together to make a difference. When the children see a forlorn tree atop a hillside, they envision it as the new centerpiece for a park. Soon all of the community is rolling up its sleeves and joining in to make the park a place of beauty. This is an important story about civic engagement: “We all have a place in the village, a job to do, and a lot to learn,” Clinton writes. This is a book that is sure to inspire young readers to make the world a better place.

The Story of Arthur Truluv

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, Arthur, a widow, is a lonely, introspective man who goes to the grave of his wife every day to have imaginary conversations with her and reflect on the lives of others. Maddy, a troubled teenager, hangs out at the cemetery to avoid others. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, drawing them each out of isolation. With the addition of Arthur’s nosy neighbour, Lucille, the trio band together to create a loving, supportive family. Elizabeth Berg‘s novel is a compassionate and heartwarming tale about second chances and achieving happiness at any age. It is a poignant reminder that small acts of kindness can have a profound impact, and that we are all truly neighbours.

As our lives slowly return to a new normal, we now have an opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons learned from this unprecedented time. Perhaps one of the biggest reminders is that life is short and you can’t know what the future holds – take time to pause and experience the present moment. Life got busier for some of us and quieter for others, but we should all remember to slow down and find joy in the little things. Take a few minutes each day to practice gratitude and celebrate your life. Share kind thoughts with others – you never know how your words may change a life. And always remember that we are in this together.

I hope you will take the time to reach out and connect with your family, friends, and community. Stay safe and be well.