By Melissa Ricci
Belonging to the Hamilton Community Foundation‘s YAC (Youth Advisory Council) has really given me a unique insight into the meaning of the word “community.”
It’s not a secret that Hamilton has its fair share of problems involving poverty. When I was younger, I would try to avoid going downtown because I thought it was scary – it was not the sheltered suburb I was used to playing dolls in. People used food banks, asked for spare change, and stayed overnight at shelters. I was terrified because it was all unknown to me and I thought I would get hurt.
When I was 15, a teacher invited me to go to the first YAC meeting of the year. I got my mom to drive me down to Jackson Square, in the heart of downtown Hamilton, so I could attend. Representatives explained the grant-making process and gave us a brief outline of what we would be doing over the course of the year. I met some new friends and left. I admit, I was confused as to how meeting in a boardroom would make any difference in the community.
But the longer I stayed with the YAC, the more grant proposals I read, and the more community visits I participated in, the more I learned about Hamilton. It had always been rather unknown to me: I stayed in my happy bubble and ignored everything new. Now I was learning about its thriving arts community, about church groups and youth groups organizaing breakfast programs, street hockey leagues, services for newly immigrated students.
I got involved, I met people, and I saw the true face of the “scary” city I had avoided for so long. I loved every minute of it.
I’ve lived in Hamilton my entire life. But it wasn’t until I started working with the Community Foundation that I really began to call Hamilton my home.
One of the most important things I’ve learned, and that I believe everyone should learn, is the importance of getting outside your comfort bubble. To truly make an impact on the problems in a community, to truly improve the lives of children, to eradicate poverty, to help others become involved, and to help those who may need it, you need to know your city. You need to get involved. You need to make your city your home and care for it as you would care for your own family.
Getting out of the house and simply learning is the first step to helping. Go!
Melissa Ricci served on the YAC for three years, and as co-chair in 2009-10. She now studies Arts and Science at McMaster University. She likes reading, cake decorating, volunteering, and the Hamilton Community Foundation, and hopes to one day found her own charitable organization.