Mandy Samwell (left), president of the Eagle Place Community Association, and Belonging Brant supervisor Taylor Berzins are looking forward to the week-long Asset-Based Community Development Symposium beginning March 15, 2021. Photo by Brian Thompson /The Expositor

A week-long symposium beginning March 15 will celebrate connections at a time when isolation and loneliness have become significant issues.The third annual Asset-Based Community Development Symposium is timed to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the provincial lockdown, or “the week our lives stood still,” said Rishia Burke, director of community development and services at Community Living Brant.

“Through topics ranging from food and playfulness to activism and the outdoors, organizers hope the Symposium will both celebrate and inspire the creative pivots that continue to be necessary to stay connected during this challenging time,” Burke said.Throughout the week, the public can virtually attend any of the panel discussions and workshops at no cost.A number of international speakers will take part, including keynotes from representatives of the Seattle Department of Neighbourhoods, telling of their Reimagine Seattle campaign. As well, an Australian community-building network, called BeFriend, will share stories about its successes cultivating connections, friendships and community.

Burke said the symposium also is an opportunity to share the progress of a local initiative, called Belonging Brant, that was launched last year.Modelled after the Australian BeFriend program, and with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Belonging Brant aims to bring people together through common interests and passions, with leadership training available for group leaders through the Community Legal Clinic.“Rather than an organization doing things for you, asset-based community development is about citizens doing things for other citizens,” Burke said.

She cited the Equal Grounds Community Gardens, which supports a network of community gardens, and the project to create a food forest in Parson’s Park in Eagle Place as two examples of ABCD, where citizens work alongside each other to help one another.

“The assets are individuals, associations, agencies, spaces and community,” Burke explained. “All those things come together and collaborate to further enhance and build capacity in the community.”

Pandemic restrictions have resulted in most of the Belonging Brant groups meeting virtually, but organizers hope to move some of the meeting outdoors, while observing social distancing precautions.

One such group called A Place To Be is a partnership of Belonging Brant, the Brantford Public Library and Laurier’s Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

“It’s a community drop-in space that is meeting virtually for the time being,” said Belonging Brant supervisor Taylor Berzins. “We chat about a theme, and share stories. We’re planning to have some outdoor games, coffee and snacks. It’s a place to hang out, be together and build community.”

Other groups that already have formed include an Indigenous book club, podcasts, a grief circle, walking club and a game group that meets weekly to play social interactive games.

“Because we’re having to do things a little differently, our goal was 10 groups in year one,” Burke noted. “I think we’re more than halfway there.”

Some of the symposium events require registration in advance, while others will be streamed online.

For more information, follow ABCD Brant on Facebook or e-mail Berzins at:

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