Building community leadership is what revitalizes our neighbourhoods

REACH Edmonton is perhaps not an organization that most of us would recognize, but true to its name, its influence reaches deep into communities that surround the city core. 

On June 6, over 300 enthusiastic REACH members gathered in Central Lions Recreation Centre for the annual meeting in which they approved a seven million dollar budget in funding for community initiatives, with money coming from the City of Edmonton, Public Safety Canada, 24/7 Initiative, All In for Youth initiative, Ambassador Program, Out of School Time programming, Police and Youth Engagement Program, and others.

REACH assists communities or agencies working on the front line to address problems and solutions. Its engagement strategy is somewhat unique in that firstly, it explores and exposes the root causes of social issues common throughout the city, but particularly in its core. 

A leadership culture helps in revitalizing our neighbourhoods. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

REACH coalesces support for organizations that address these issues at street level, such as Hope Mission, Boyle Street Community Services Co-operative, Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Crisis Diversion Van.

It also provides education and tools to communities to help them to problem solve and to take responsibility for making neighbourhoods more desirable places to live. This latter was the focus of guest speaker Paul Schmitz, CEO of Leading Inside Out. 

Schmitz, author of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership From the Community Up,” brought an inspiring and informative narrative of what it takes to build leadership in a community.

With years of experience in social activism in the United States, Schmitz believes that everyone is a potential leader; the success of community activism is dependant upon organizations recognizing the leadership ability of its members.

REACH provides tools and education to communities. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

“Leadership is not a position held by a few, but action shared by many,” says Schmitz. 

Schmitz offers several strategies for communities to develop leadership.

For Schmitz, “Change is an inside job.” He stresses that the best people to address social problems in marginalized communities are the people who live in those communities.When communities problem solve together, it’s a good thing. They strengthen and grow when issues are tackled strategically. 

He encourages people to identify problems in concrete terms, counselling that leaving issues or ideas in an abstract form doesn’t lead to action.

Likewise, a community must ensure that results are measurable. This requires definable and identifiable outcomes in order to decide if an initiative has “moved the needle.” Any solutions should also be concrete and achievable.

Developing a leadership culture is the ultimate solution to revitalizing our neighbourhoods. Schmitz quoted Peter Drucker (author, management consultant, and educator) several times with the words, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 

Leadership potential in individuals needs to be identified by asset-based engagement. We need to identify strengths and assets in individuals rather than deficits. We are all both; it is merely our perspective that emphasizes the positives or negatives. 

Edmonton has a tremendous asset base with its community league organizations. This has been extremely effective in strengthening a sense of responsibility for the quality of life and sense of community and identity. The result is that we are off to a head start when we are looking to motivate people to action.

For those interested in joining REACH, memberships for students and seniors are $10, $25 for individuals, $50 to $200 for corporations, and are available at

Featured Image: Over 300 REACH members attended the AGM and leadership presentation on June 6. | Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck