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Blog Post #6:  - Meet Melissa and Sarah Clark, participants in Working 4 Change: Learn & Go, a project of the Social Innovation Fund

Improving their community, transforming themselves

Program empowers a pair of ambitious sisters

When Melissa Clark enrolled in Working 4 Change, she also signed up her younger sister, Sarah.

 

“I was like, ‘You did what?!’” Sarah says. “Because she knows I don’t like speaking outside my comfort zone.”

 

Sarah didn’t back away, though. With encouragement – or, perhaps more accurately, orders – from her older sister, she attended the program for community change-makers.

 

“It was nerve-racking,” Sarah, 28, says. “But after a few sessions, I began to open up. Now I can actually stand my ground and speak to people. Before I took the program, I couldn't say boo.”

 

The program generated the sort of positive changes Melissa, 38,  had hoped for in her sister.

 

“It gives her a good outlook,” she says. “It builds her self-esteem. It gives her more confidence.”

Melissa and Sarah Clark worked to get a crosswalk near the new playground in their north-end neighbourhood. 

“Now I can actually stand my ground and speak to people. Before I took the program, I couldn't say boo.” - Sarah Clark

Proven program increases impact

Working 4 Change, formerly known as Learn and Go, is an initiative of the Saint John Women’s Empowerment Network, a non-profit that helps to improve the lives of low-income women. The program for community change and personal empowerment is one of eight projects of the Social Innovation Fund managed by Living SJ. This investment by the Province of New Brunswick of $10 million over five years supports new approaches to fight generational poverty in Saint John.

 

Working in small, neighbourhood-based teams, participants get six weeks of skills workshops on subjects like communication, team-building and pitching. Each group comes up with a local project. For the Clarks, traffic calming measures near the new play park in their North End neighbourhood was an obvious choice.

 

Building on success

Last summer, Melissa was deeply involved in helping to build the new park, logging dozens of hours on the project, while raising three children, aged 15, 13 and 5, all with autism. To her surprise and delight, her efforts were recognized with a volunteer leadership award, which was presented at a community event at the Nick Nicolle Centre in the fall.

 

“It’s an amazing experience when people actually recognize the hard work that you do,” Melissa says. “It boosted me up higher, higher than I already was.”  

 

The sisters’ Working 4 Change initiative was a natural choice, but not an easy project. It was a lot of hard work. There were times when things did not run smooth.

 

“We hit some big speed bumps,” Melissa says. “It was a challenge we’ll never forget.”

 

They had to learn new skills, such as PowerPoint. The workload was heavy and they needed to  give a lot time and effort. But walking away wasn’t an option.

 

“I’m not going to let a project go down,” Melissa says. “We worked so hard. I wasn’t going to let it fail.”

“It’s an amazing experience when people actually recognize the hard work that you do.” - Melissa Clark

Green light

Along with other groups in their Working 4 Change cohort, they presented their idea in December, at a packed lunchtime event. After they presented, their mother, who they cite as their inspiration, hugged them and gave them bouquets of flowers.

 

The Clark sisters have heard the city has approved their idea. Construction on a lighted crosswalk is scheduled for the spring of 2019.

 

“I cried when they told us we got it,” Sarah says. “I looked at Melissa and said, ‘I can’t believe it.’”

 

Now Sarah is in a new program, gaining workplace essential skills. She has a goal: to work in retail. And Melissa is mulling her next community project. She’d love to see the Block Parent program brought back.

 

“If I did another project, that would be it."