Co-op Voisins shows how to engage a diverse, bilingual membership
Nestled in a leafy corner of Sandy Hill, the 76 units at Co-op Voisins are home to a diverse array of families, single people, and seniors, from many different backgrounds. The co-op recently marked its 25th anniversary with a big celebration.
Voisins is one of six Ottawa co-ops that are officially bilingual. This creates both opportunities and challenges for the co-op and its members.
Karine Lachapelle is the co-op’s current Vice-President. Volunteering to help translate the co-op’s newsletter helped her realize that she has a knack for translation. Since she’s now working on a degree in translation, she calls joining the co-op “a life-changing experience”.
The co-op has many other ways for its members to get involved.
Like many co-ops, Voisins has a member selection committee, a member orientation committee, and a social committee, which is very active throughout the year, organizing events such as holiday parties, movie nights, and even March Break activities for kids. Its Garden Committee stays busy taking care of the co-op’s beautiful grounds. However, the co-op also has some other interesting committees:
- The Parking Committee monitors the visitor parking to make sure everyone has a parking pass.
- A Library Committee maintains a lending library in the co-op.
- In the event of an emergency, the co-op’s Emergency Response Team is a committee that helps make sure other members are safe.
- The co-op is now starting a Wellness Committee, with activities like painting, to encourage members to get to know each other and resolve their conflicts and difficulties together.
The co-op has succeeded in creating a culture of engagement among its members. As founding member Jeff puts it, “If I get asked to do something, and if I can do it, I’ll do it.”
What is the secret to Voisins’ success in engaging its membership? When its member orientation committee gives an orientation session to new members, it focuses on opportunities for getting involved, while gifting new members with a houseplant for their new home.
Once they’ve settled in, long-time member and active volunteer Ester Sepahi cold-calls new members and asks them for help with counting the laundry coins. While they’re doing that, she finds out what their interests are and explains other volunteering opportunities to them. This helps put new members on a path to engagement and connection with fellow members.
As Ann, another of the co-op’s founding members puts it, “I’ve grown with the co-op, I’ve seen births, deaths, generations growing up. People help each other out.”
Building that type of diverse, resilient community takes effort, but Co-op Voisins shows that that work pays off.