Whistler talks about belonging 

Whistler Community Foundation Vital Café asks residents how community can best foster a sense of belonging

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE - Community members gather at a Vital Café hosted by the Whistler Community Foundation (formerly known as the Community Foundation of Whistler) in partnership with Whistler Blackcomb on Wednesday, Oct. 16 to discuss how best to foster a sense of belonging among Whistler's Community.
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde
  • Community members gather at a Vital Café hosted by the Whistler Community Foundation (formerly known as the Community Foundation of Whistler) in partnership with Whistler Blackcomb on Wednesday, Oct. 16 to discuss how best to foster a sense of belonging among Whistler's Community.

Peaked Pies co-owner Kerri Jones understands what it’s like to live far away from family. That’s one reason why she focuses her efforts on making personal connections with the employees who choose to work for her.


“I’ve had probably three or four staff cry on my shoulder … for me it’s just always ensuring that they feel like they have someone to talk to,” she said, while speaking on a panel during an Oct. 16 Vital Café dubbed "Fostering belonging - whose job is it anyway?"

The event was hosted by the Whistler Community Foundation (formerly known as the Community Foundation of Whistler) in partnership with Whistler Blackcomb, and held at the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s longhouse.

“My biggest thing is always—and I do get emotional sometimes—none of us have family here,” Jones said through tears. “We all need each other. I get emotional about this because of the amount of young people I’ve had come to me and be like, ‘I miss home, I miss my family,’ and I know exactly how that feels.”

It’s not just anecdotal evidence like Jones’ that proves Whistlerites are struggling. Last year, the Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report found that, when asked at what times they experienced a sense of belonging, 33 per cent of respondents said when they’re with family—despite the fact that much of the community resides a plane ride away from their parents or siblings. (In addition, 63 per cent of respondents said they felt belonging when with friends, 56 per cent replied “while in nature,” and 33 per cent said “at work.”)


For the uninitiated, Vital Cafés are intimate conversations about “big issues affecting our community,” focused on different themes inspired by the United Nations’ global Sustainable Development Goals. Under the umbrella of fostering belonging, Wednesday’s event focused on good health and well-being, reduced inequalities and sustainable cities and communities.

Approximately 30 attendees listened to a Q&A-style panel, led by Nicole Baudisch, Whistler Blackcomb’s senior manager of employee relations and house, featuring Jones, Purebread owners Mark and Paula Lamming, Zero Ceiling development officer Lizi McLoughlin and Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) executive director Jackie Dickinson, before breaking into small groups to discuss what Whistler can do to better address these issues.

During the first portion of the evening, attendees heard all about what different groups are doing to foster belonging in the community, from staff housing to employee incentives. 
At Whistler Blackcomb, many of their initiatives—for example, staff housing programs and Mountain Meals—are targeted towards creating a sense of belonging among first-year employees, while other initiatives like call-in counselling services, mental health first aid training and Vail Resorts’ Epic Promise emergency grants exist to help staff who may be facing a crisis.

Meanwhile, since everyone in attendance agreed food is what helps bring people together, Dickinson touted WCSS’ hot lunch program, held at the Food Bank, and its school lunch program, as well as the organization’s Birth, Baby and Beyond program for new moms and its Pregnancy and Infant Loss program, both of which help group members connect to others who share similar experiences. 
That said, WCSS’ community outreach workers clearly have their hands full. According to Dickinson, WCSS is currently on track to see more than 3,000 people in one-to-one visits this year.

So what can the community’s residents do to help each other? 
“A warm cup of coffee and a hug in the moment can change so much for so many people,” Dickinson said. “I always say, ask people how they are and really be prepared to listen … that creates such a strong sense of belonging.”

The discussion also identified gaps where a portion of Whistler’s community may be lacking that sense of belonging, for example, in the case of injured residents being unable to join their friends’ outdoor pursuits.

With so much focus on ensuring Whistler’s vulnerable new arrivals feel a sense of belonging, Jones also wondered if the community is still looking after those who’ve called Whistler home for longer than a season or two.

“I’ve had a few of my store managers leave, who have been here five or six years,” she explained. “They get engaged, they don’t see a future here anymore, they don’t own anything, so they’re leaving.

“I’d love this conversation to extend a little bit more to people who have been here up to 10 years or longer, who still need to feel a sense of belonging but feel like they have nowhere to turn to next.”

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