As a journalist, Leah Shaw was just supposed to be reporting on a Salmon Arm community conversation in early March. But she’s now at the centre of a new effort that emerged out of that — and feeling reinvigorated about how her gifts can help shape her community’s preferred future.

The March 5-6 community gathering in the southern B.C. city of about 17,000 was centred largely on the six conversations that author and thought leader Peter Block invites communities looking to co-create their futures to consider.

Peter and now many others have brought these conversations to workplaces, boardrooms, neighbourhoods, churches, government offices and schools across the continent and beyond.

Shuswap residents, a teacher and her students, share their stories with Voice of the Shuswap.

Shuswap residents, a teacher and her students, share their stories with Voice of the Shuswap.

The conversations are aimed at building community and pointedly designed to confront the issue of accountability and commitment.

The 60 Salmon Arm residents who joined the March gathering sat knee to knee in groups of three to four and had conversations about what had brought them into the room as well as new possibilities they could see for their community. People also reflected on the gifts they bring to the table that could help actualize these new possibilities.

“The more I reflect on the process the more convinced I am it is all very simple,” says Bernie DesRosiers, a key person in organizing the gathering in Salmon Arm as executive director of Shuswap Settlement Services. A non-profit, Shuswap Settlement Services has been on an active journey since its formation five years ago to engage the Salmon Arm community in creating a welcoming community.

“ Subdivisions build real estate one house at a time. Conversations build community one relationship at a time. Who would have thought that great Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s pronouncement that ‘the medium is the message’ would still resonate today,” Bernie says.

A journalist for about 20 years, Leah has been actively involved in the last two years with a community radio station she helped form called Voice of the Shuswap. The station’s mandate is to share the stories of those who are rarely featured in mainstream media. Since its inception, Leah has been volunteering her weekends and evenings to train volunteer broadcasters to be able to contribute to the station. She admits she’d been feeling the burden of the effort lately.

After hearing from Peter and her fellow citizens in this gathering, that’s less the case for her.

“Listening to the ideas of how we can all use our gifts to make a better community, that’s the part that resonated with me,” Leah says.

“It reinvigorated my commitment to radio . After 18 to 20 years of working in the media, this is something I can offer back to my community . . . for the good of the community.”

Leah is now working with Shuswap Settlement Services to develop a community radio program that will feature the individual stories of immigrants living in the community. The goal is to train four volunteer broadcasters who will then work with community members to help share their stories via radio.

The stories will told in the first person by the community member and focus on why they came to Salmon Arm, who they are, how their identity has changed and the struggles and experiences they’ve had settling into the community.

The overarching intent is to provide a more multi-faceted perspective of the community and help people better understand the “richness of individuals” who live there, which aligns well with the original mandate of the Voices of the Shuswap station.

In addition to the single-person narratives, Immigrant Services Shuswap is planning a series of related community conversation groups.

While in a way she feels presumptuous to think that anything that’s broadcast through the community radio is going to reach and change people, Leah does hold that as a hope as she looks to the future of the program.

“Why not hope that as a result of hearing somebody’s unique story, (listeners) treat the next person they meet in a different more positive way,” she says.

“I’m hoping we will become a more tolerant community and society and that we will go through our day-to-day activities with a slightly more positive outlook on people.”

Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger

Editor’s Note: Click here to read about Axiom News’ partnership with Charles Holmes Consulting and the intent of the stories in this series.