It’s hard not to be energized when you have a conversation with Anne Harvey. You will undoubtedly emerge “friended,” and if Anne’s contagious glow can't bring neighbours together, then nothing can. Even before beginning to talk with me at a quiet restaurant outside the Citadel Theatre, she greets our server with cheerful recollection, having recognized him from his other job in St. Albert.
Anne comes by her relationship-first approach honestly. The oldest of four siblings, she says she “grew up in a unique community,” referring to L’Arche, an international organization that creates homes, programs, and support networks with and for people who have intellectual disabilities. As she recounts memories of a childhood “immersed with diverse people,” she describes a community of family, with weekly dinners, monthly sharings, and regular holiday celebrations spent together. “We’re all part of a larger village, and we’re responsible to it and within it,” she says.
Although Anne’s village extends across the globe, her Edmonton roots run deep. “The University of Alberta was the university I always wanted to go to,” she says, talking about her time spent exploring higher education. It took her seven years, shifting between full- and part-time studies while at the same time working with the City of Edmonton in a variety of positions related to recreation program delivery.
“We’re all part of a larger village, and we’re responsible to it and within it."
“I was so indecisive about my studies," she says. "I started in fine arts, then dabbled in marketing, business, education, and finally decided on a bachelor of arts in recreation, sport and tourism. It was a diverse program, including everything from volunteerism to program development to large facility management, and it was recommended to me by people in senior level positions with the City doing work that I hoped to do one day.”
After finishing that degree, Anne kept exploring. She expanded her knowledge of a variety of religions and life stances, taught English in South Korea and Germany, volunteered in Africa, and traversed across parts of South Asia and Europe.
“I was homesick by then,” she says, “primarily for my family and friends but also for this city and its culture and the communities I’m part of here. I felt like I needed to be part of something familiar to me again, so when I came back, I immediately started looking for jobs with the City of Edmonton. Within a few months, I was back in.”
Gradually, she progressed with the City from co-ordinating to developing various programs, which was a perfect way to cultivate “in-touchedness” and fuel her passions for social innovation, facilitation, and community. In her work with the City as well as elsewhere, she has established festival partnerships, developed child and youth programs, built curriculum, and covered a spectrum from education to health, recreation, and outdoor pursuits. Just ask her about Wilderness and Canoe Leadership. On the side, she stays involved with the Language and Instruction Program for Newcomers (LINC) to “introduce people new to Edmonton and Canada to the community that they’re in, to help them settle and be integrated in this new life.” She’s a member of the Edmonton League of Entrepreneurs and a past board member of the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association. She also served on the City of Edmonton’s Public Engagement Initiative Community Leadership Working Group. Most recently, she was accepted into the Master of Arts in Community Development program in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria.
Over two dozen City projects and programs later, Anne has landed in the nexus of neighbourhood community building as the City of Edmonton’s point person for an initiative that strives to promote “neighbourliness” and helps to create an organic support structure for every block. Based on a book of the same title, the Abundant Community Edmonton (ACE) approach has now been adopted by 25 neighbourhoods in Edmonton and has generated interest from across the continent, with cities as far away as Palm Beach, Florida, wanting to know about its impact or implementing it based on the lessons learned right here.
Anne considers herself to be “a bridge or connector between the City administration and the neighbourhood-based groups she works with,” navigating the organization and processes to support, advise, and facilitate on-the-ground connections between residents based on their skills, interests, and abilities. Just yesterday, Anne celebrated at the ACE Connectors and Volunteers Appreciation and Video Launch event with over one hundred neighbours who believe in the purpose and power of getting to know each other.
“I just want to be part of the action and have the opportunity to collaboratively contribute to important decisions being made in this city we call home.”
What about balance? For Anne, life, work, and community blend together perpetually, which is clear from her apologies for having arrived late from a prior engagement and for rushing off to the next. And goals? “I don’t need to have power or prestige,” she says. “I just want to be part of the action and have the opportunity to collaboratively contribute to important decisions being made in this city we call home.”
As for tips for other change-makers, she says it’s helpful to
- Prepare a pep talk to give yourself. You’re going to need it.
- Be excited but not cocky. You may at times think yours is the best idea ever, but likely several people have had it or have tried it. Your idea is perhaps a different iteration.
- Be ready to be proven wrong. Focus on learning and enjoy the debate. As Bill Nye has said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
- Collaborate and chat about what’s being worked on—it spreads.
- Encourage and promote innovation and creativity from the people around you.
- Celebrate successes, even the small wins.
In closing, “take care of your families, your friends, and your neighbours,” Anne says.