Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Community Initiative Spotlight: Say Hi to a Stranger

Getting involved in a resident-led initiative can be a rewarding experience. Just ask Kaare Long who started Say Hi to a Stranger during a weekend in November 2013. Here is the story behind Say Hi to a Stranger, a resident-led group in Vancouver, Canada.

Why and how did you get involved in the resident-led group Say Hi to a Stranger?
The why was fueled by my own need and subsequent inability to meet that need within my city. I was suddenly single and realized I really didn't feel connected at all to a community around me, where I lived or worked and I really didn't know where to go to meet new people. Online dating seemed like the only option and that seemed silly to me if I was living in such a large city. I realized that something just wasn't 'right' about this city and meeting new people. I started to talk to others, both my age and other demographics. I talked to both men and women aged 20-60 and I found a similar complaint, or issue existed with them. This made me think it might not be an isolated issue, but one that many felt. The HOW I got involved is by my own tenacity and need to reach out and identify and issue and then DO something about it.

Have you received any support from your city?

We have yet to receive any support or recognition from our city. The media have paid attention and do give us some fairly good exposure, but as far as any city officials, we have yet to garner any interest. We are hoping one of our Councillors will come out for our next event this time - we have put out the invitation!

How were you able to identify, connect, and convene members?

I started with my own colleagues and then wrote a press release to get the media interested. The first time we did our event-focused weekend, we had a lot of media attention that allowed us to connect to many individuals in the city. This presence also allowed me the ability to enlist and request sponsorship and engagement from other businesses and colleagues that I knew of and worked with. As any natural idea or network, the idea started to spread through social media, through traditional media, and through the businesses and individuals who found out about the movement and the event and started spreading the word for us.

What lessons have you learned during this journey?

The biggest lesson for me overall has been: DO NOT try and do everything myself! The original event was planned and executed within two weeks of launching the idea to the press. The team consisted of myself, and 2 others, that was it. We shook all the hands, took all the photos, videotaped all the interactions, did all of the social media etc. It was exhausting. BUT, I realized that the idea must live on, so I learned to ask for help and support and to start delegating. I have also learned to observe each rendition of the event and learn from things that didn't work, make stronger systems and delegate more tasks and responsibilities. It has been a wonderful learning tool for me on how to build an organization from ground zero essentially. It is step by step and member by member. As I grow and expand, so does the organization. I also learned to invite other ideas, other forms of leadership and collaboration to allow for a greater perspective as we grow. I have also learned more about the power of community and the power of authentic human connection. The work we do with this movement allows us the opportunity to essentially practice what we preach. We meet many new businesses, strangers and other members of our community. I've really learned what the power of one 'Hello' can do. It truly can change a person’s day, and sometimes their life. I didn't realize this when I started, but after meeting so many people, it has become very real to me how important our day to day connections are, and how vital it is to stay open.

What rewards are local businesses providing to residents who get involved?

The businesses that get involved reward residents with whatever their specialty or product is. We have coffee and baked goods, beauty and body products, organic food items, meat, beverages, and local artisan gifts. The incentives are as varied as the businesses who join us as Community Partners.

What message would you give to apathetic residents that would encourage them to participate in resident-led initiatives?

I would suggest to the less engaged residents of our communities that if they feel disconnected in any way to come out and just observe. Our street teams lead the initiative during the weekend and put themselves out there to educate and demonstrate the power and ease of a simple 'Hi!' And that those of us who have been with this movement over the years have met new best friends, business partners, collaborative partners, artistic connections - the list goes on. I would ask any person who doubts the power of this one word to just try it once. At the very LEAST you will walk away feeling proud and feeling open. The very act requires bravery, since rejection is always possible. But, more often than not, we have found the people of Vancouver are surprised, yet very pleasantly so, to get a warm greeting. And if you keep at it, you might witness your greeting changing someone’s day. I cannot tell you how amazing that feeling is. It is a natural antidepressant. 

What's next and how can residents in 
Vancouver get involved?
As always, we encourage folks to join us online with the #sayhitoastranger hashtag - we have lots of fun leading up to the event and provide tips and tricks on how to say 'Hi!' to a stranger. We then really ask that you take the plunge, be brave and risk coming out in person during the weekend, if you are in Vancouver. We have lots of fun events lined up that will be entertaining and interesting. We also have wonderful community partners that are just waiting to invite you in to their business and give you a gift for being friendly. It’s really easy! Visit the website www.sayhitoastranger.com for details and schedules. Finally, this year we have a new element that we are very excited about. We have local artists joining us, as well as a video booth at various locations where you can video your 'stranger moment.' Document it where a stranger becomes a new friend, share it online, and become famous for a day as we share your bravery and brilliance with our followers. We will be compiling this footage and creating a documentary about it in later months. If you want to be part of the beginning of something wonderful, come and put your face and your friendliness to it. :-) Join us in warming our cities up, one Hello at a time!

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