An Embrace with Open Arms – Picturing the Perfect Community, An Interview with Doloris Hyrnkiw 

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 12.29.07 PM

By Lara Boleslawsky

Photograph by Raine Gauthier

What does the word ‘community’ mean to you? Initially, the question poses a daunting task: putting into words the magnitude of emotion, passion and dedication that is held by the diverse individuals that are a part of that community. Nonetheless, it was a question I posed to Kerrisdale local, Doloris Hyrnkiw, and her response triggered a discussion probing into the concepts of ‘safety’ and ‘isolation’ and their relationship to the building blocks of society and the relatively uncharted territory of community engagement. [Our conversation left a sincere impression on me, and I felt myself inspired by Doloris’ story. Not only was I able to reflect upon my own life thus far, but our interview left me to ponder how I myself might answer the question I so often posed to my interviewees.]

Doloris’ background, working with disabled and disadvantaged youth has given her the profound ability to tap into the role of emotion in the creation of a healthy and sustainable community. A native of Calgary, Alberta, Doloris began her career in social development in high school. Having been asked to work at a Special Needs School in her mid-teens, Doloris credits this experience as having been the spark for her determined efforts to increase awareness of the role of isolation in the hindrance of social development. 

“The institution was quite sad,” Doloris recalls, remembering that children were kept in big warehouse, like buildings in small rooms with locks on the other side of the city, effectively isolating them from the daily rumblings of metropolitan life. 

“I remember reading an article by Wolfensberger [a prominent German sociologist], saying, you know, that ‘people should have a normal life. So I became an advocate at 17, when I went to work I would bring toys with me or balls, and then I would say: ‘Come on kids, let’s play a game,’” Doloris states somewhat sadly. 

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 12.33.22 PMAt this I found myself somewhat in awe; never could I imagine having to take upon my shoulders such a heavy, albeit, vital role as an advocate for human interaction and its potential in the sphere of social development. Yet Doloris did just this, and continues to do so even today. A powerful reminder of the inner strength I very much admire in this amazing woman. 

However, the journey wasn’t easy. Doloris recollects that the staff of these institutions used to mock her: “They would say, ‘Oh, you’re wasting you’re time.’ Or ‘Why are you doing that?’” Faced with such continual closed-mindedness, Doloris summarizes her experience aptly when she states: “It was all very artificial.” 

For Doloris, the practical ability to work with low income, disabled, and/or disadvantaged youth and adults has perhaps influenced her vision of community and social interaction. Having been exposed to the issues presented by isolation at such a young age, when she entered adulthood, Doloris began (and still continues to) ask herself, ‘what does a healthy community look like?’ 

The answer is close to home. “A community is a place where you can access, in walking distance, many different things: the library, swimming pool, seniors centre, arenas, coffee shops, bookstores,” she responds, adding finally, “Things we have here is Kerrisdale.” 

Indeed, Doloris cites what is being done in Kerrisdale to promote social awareness and community engagement as a form of the ideal community. In addition, a community needs to consist of “different age groups: young families, singles, couples, the elderly, it needs to be safe and it needs to have a ‘hub’.” 

But what exactly are we referring to by ‘hub’? Doloris uses the Kerrisdale Community Centre as an example. 

“What I like about the Kerrisdale Community Centre is that it acts as a sort of hub. It brings people in. They can take classes, work out, they have spots where people can come in, have coffee and meet other community members,” Doloris explains. Ultimately, “You have access to different resources.” 

A hub is a safe space. A place where people of any age, any culture, any level of income are welcome and treated with respect. A hub such as the Kerrisdale Community Centre can provide individuals with access to the resources they need. Doloris emphasizes the critical role of a hub to allow individuals to come together, saying, “A big issue is the issue of segregation. If we are separated from each other, we have no chance to learn from one another or to come together to support each other.” It begs the question: how much of our daily social interactions do we take for granted? As we look at ourselves, our friends, our family, we don’t often realize that many of us do not have the ability to interact with people that respect and care about you. Isolation can occur even on the busiest street, in the midst of a crowd, in the fray of our busy world. As soon as one begins to realize that they are isolated, it is important that they have a hub or community to fall back on. This, Doloris emphasizes, is what causes many of today’s social issues. 

[Looking back now at Doloris’ incredible story, I am grateful to her insights about community, as they have helped me to form my own vision of what community means to me.] I like to think of a community like a coloring book. You open it, there are lines to guide you, but nobody says you need to stay within those lines, or even colour the images in a certain way. By all means, when you pick up the crayon, you are free to let your imagination burst onto the page. Color the trees red, make the Sun bright blue. Perhaps even add some hand-drawn pink and purple spotted flowers to that empty grass at the bottom of the page. That is what being a community is all about. It is an ever-evolving, creative, piece. A myriad of people’s coloring pages. 

In the beginning I posed a difficult question, one that has no real, concrete or tangible answer. However, the diverse approach taken to form an answer by inspirational figures such as Doloris, are what allow for communities to thrive.