Though it was a cold, blustery day in spring, more than 160 residents of Applewood community in south-east Calgary showed up for the Easter egg hunt Syeda Zehra had organized.
It was so chilly, Syeda had decided to leave her toddler at home, but she was absolutely thrilled by the turnout.
“The main reason I do this is to build good relationships, like a family,” says Syeda. “If you have good relationships in a community, the community will be safer.”
She feels her neighbourhood, which includes a strong diversity of cultures, is now in a better place for fostering more of those relationships.
“I received so many emails from people later,” she says. “They were so happy, the feedback was so good. They want this Easter egg hunt every year and they want me to do another event in one or two months and they want to take part and volunteer.”
Syeda is a newcomer to Calgary from Pakistan and a mother of two young children. Organizing the Easter event entailed connecting with the Calgary Foundation to ask about a possible grant — which she received, printing and distributing brochures with her young son, contacting the local police service and inviting them to participate and purchasing the treats and prizes.
In other words, it was no small task that she undertook.
So what brought her to take this kind of initiative?
“I am a people-person,” Syeda says with a smile. “I have a social work degree from Pakistan, I love to be with people, that’s in my blood.”
The culture of her home country is also much more connected, she says, than what she found in Calgary.
In the diversity of her neighbourhood, she’s observed people of like backgrounds mingling, but much less crossing of cultural boundaries.
So she decided to be the one to do that crossing. She started by talking to the families she met while waiting for her son at the school bus stop. “I always tell my son not to talk to strangers,” she says. “And then here I am, doing that. He says, ‘Mommy, you know that person?’ I say, ‘Now I do’.”
It was as winter was ending that she had the idea for the Easter hunt. “I wanted to target kids,” she says. “Being a mother, if somebody invites me for a grown-up party I would be like if I have time I will come, but if they say we have something for kids, I would definitely go.”
The event she’s considering next will also centre on children.
Syeda received a Stepping Stones grant for the Easter event. Stepping Stones is a unique and innovative partnership between the Calgary Foundation and First Calgary Financial.
The grants, which range from $100 to $600, are intended to encourage active citizenship by helping residents undertake small, creative project that benefit their local community.
To learn more about the grants, click here