BEPPLE – The power of building community

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

LAST WEEK, I was part of something almost magical.  On Thursday, Oct. 10, I was one of an audience of about 200 who came together for the Stand Up for Mental Health comedy show.

Kudos go to Krystian Shaw, who spearheaded getting the show off the ground and made his comedic premiere at the show, and Glenn Hilke, who was the producer.  The show wouldn’t have happened without strong support from many community groups and individuals as well.

Community came together to laugh and smile, and perhaps cry at the comedy show.

Six Kamloopsians who have lived experience with mental illness stood in front of us and delivered stand-up comedy acts.

But not just any comedy.  Their jokes came from their experiences dealing with mental illness, or more often than not, dealing with other people in their lives who were often as challenged dealing with their illnesses as they were themselves.

The comedians did an outstanding job making us laugh.  Shaw and Hilke did an amazing job putting the show on.

But it was more than the comedy that was magical.  It was a sense of community that was created.

When I looked around the audience, I saw people from all walks of life.  There were people who work for social agencies, City councillors and doctors.  There were teachers, pharmacists and business people.  Retirees, and young parents.  There were friends and supporters of all the comedians.

Some in the audience, like me, have had a mental illness.  Others have family or friends who have.  Some might not have had much direct experience with mental illness.

All types of people from all parts of Kamloops who came together to enjoy the comedy show, and to give support to the comedians.

The show gave us a chance to laugh together, but it also gave us a sense of being part of the same community.

Which got me thinking about the power of building community.  Everyone in the room, whether comedian on the stage, or audience member, were drawn closer together by the event

We may have come as strangers, but by the end of the night, we were all there supporting each other, and laughing at ourselves.

At the end of the show, we had all shared the same laughs, the same tears, the same idea that someone isn’t just defined by the mental illness they have had, but by many other things, including, of course, their sense of humour.

Community is a powerful thing.  It helps us to see others as being part of the group. It helps us to reach out to help others, to share each other’s hardships, and celebrate each other’s successes.

Community building in Kamloops invariably starts with grassroots volunteers bringing people together who would not normally have a chance to connect.

The Stand Up for Mental Health show was a perfect example of this.  I definitely knew many of the people in the audience, but two of the three people I sat with were brand new to me.  The show gave me a chance to meet new people, and renew old acquaintances.

Another group which has been building community in Kamloops for the last 21 years is the Kamloops Heritage Society.

The City of Kamloops has recently decided to take back management of the St Andrews on the Square building. The Kamloops Heritage Society has managed the building since 1998.  It was responsible for keeping our city’s oldest public building immaculate, repairing the wear and tear, and managing the bookings.

Issues around maintenance and upkeep were some of the City’s concerns.

Pity, since the building is really not about its walls or floors or roof. Certainly the City of Kamloops can do a better job of replacing roof shingles, furnaces or floors.  And they should, since it is their building.

But St. Andrew’s on the Square is more than a building.  It is a place where community is created.  Again and again the volunteers of Kamloops Heritage Society have helped create community in Kamloops.

From weddings to baby blessings to funerals.  From the Shoe Memorial to the Workers Memorial.  Yoga classes, craft sales and music concerts.  Political gatherings, and religious services.   The events in the building bring people from all walks of life together because of the work of the society.

Community building, whether it is Shaw and Hilke creating the Stand Up for Mental Health show, or the Kamloops Heritage Society volunteers who made hundreds of gatherings possible over the last 21 years, starts at the grassroots.

Thanks to Shaw and Hilke.  Thanks also to two decades of St Andrew’s on the Square volunteers.  I hope there is a way forward that lets them all continue their amazing work of building community in Kamloops.

Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (8126 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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