When Jennifer Lim is described as a community builder, it’s literal. On the job as a planner with the City of Selkirk, Manitoba, and in her spare time as an organizer with the Seven Oaks Residents Association, the CUPE 336 president is focused on building caring, connected neighbourhoods that work.
A professional landscape architect and community planner with the city, Lim reviews and advises on new subdivision development. She also oversees bylaw enforcement.
It was fielding complaints about bylaw infractions that inspired her to start the Seven Oaks Residents Association (SORA).
“Being the planner who deals with enforcement issues, I was overwhelmed with complaints from one neighbour to another. From my perspective, I perceive a world that is becoming ever-more litigious and unwilling to resolve things through community outreach,” says Lim.
“Instead, many residents turn to government agencies and lawyers, not only to determine their rights as landowners, but to enforce compliance on their neighbours. While knowing your rights and having supports is very important and potentially necessary, I’m concerned people have forgotten how to talk to one another. They’ve forgotten how to care for one another.”
Lim says the aim of the Seven Oaks Residents Association is to bring people together and build good will and good feelings in the neighbourhood. It’s also about lending a helping hand when it’s needed – something Lim is especially proud of.
“If someone needs milk or a walk shoveled or their grass mowed because they are unable, there are volunteers in the community ready to help a neighbour in need. Residents who need a hand can call the SORA. We then search our list and find a suitable match.”
It’s a solution that eliminates complaints about unkempt yards, while providing much-needed support.
“This way, instead of pointing at someone as being a problem neighbour, we can be the help they need for as long as they need it,” says Lim.
Provincial MLA Gord Mackintosh has been a strong supporter of the SORA from the start. His office helps organize “Citizens on Patrol” walks with SORA and other associations that Lim says help build community confidence and dispel myths about the neighbourhood.
As one example, she says neighbourhood children are shuttled to a wealthier neighborhood to play sports. This action led to the closure of the local community club, which in turn meant fewer well-paying community jobs, and homes falling into disrepair.
“The run-down appearance of the neighborhood lowered property values, diminished community pride, and the residents stopped walking the streets to look at the yards. Less people in the streets left the neighborhood open to vandalism and theft, perpetuating the problem of fear and neglect,” says Lim.
Through community walks and help with upkeep, Lim says SORA can help challenge assumptions about poverty and crime. The association also works to build neighbourhood pride through awards for great gardens and community upkeep.
Lim has been working with the Selkirk and District Planning Area since 2003. She’s been involved with her local for over four years, and is now the president. She is also chair of CUPE Manitoba’s Manitoba Municipal Employees Steering Committee.
She feels a great sense of accomplishment with the association she’s helping build.
“Aside from some amazing karma, I believe that SORA is an avenue for neighbours to be better neighbours.…It doesn’t cost a thing to say hello – but it could cost everything not to,” says Lim.
On June 23, CUPE relaunched Communities Day. It’s an annual celebration of public services and the people who deliver them.
This year has a special focus on CUPE members as community builders. We’ll be profiling the vital role members play — on the job and in their spare time—building strong communities. Get involved in Communities Day by visiting cupe.ca/communities.
Jennifer is the tenth member we’ve profiled as a Community Builder! As previously mentioned, a CUPE sweatshirt will be sent to the first ten members who are profiled.