Dianne Levy’s story
By Fadila Chater
Dianne Levy sits on a bench overlooking Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, Nova Scotia. It’s mid-afternoon and a cool breeze keeps the flies at bay just long enough to enjoy relief from the hot sun. An eagle appears overhead and Dianne is overcome with joy and awe. She explains that eagles, in Buddhism and other world religions, is an auspicious sign. I later come to learn that Eagles are a symbol of the human spirit, as they are known to fly to the highest altitudes, and therefore closer to the creator. The massive bird flies into the horizon and Dianne and I continue our conversation. But the encounter with the eagle lingers in my mind.
“I think things happen for a reason,” she says.
Dianne smiles as she talks about the activity that she and the Windsor Recreation Department put together this morning. Chalk the Causeway was a big success. Hundreds of young families from the neighbouring Falmouth side and Windsor side decorated the walking trail that connects the two communities together. Soon the two will become one, once the region is consolidated. The morning’s activity acted as a gesture, a symbol of unity between the two peoples. And Dianne couldn’t have been prouder and more excited about how smoothly the project went.
But the woman who sits beside me on this beautiful summer day is an entirely different person from the woman I met a week prior. I remember seeing her, sat behind a desk at the community centre on a bright and sunny Saturday. She looked exhausted; working on the weekend just to catch up on work for Monday. It’s obvious Dianne works hard. And sometimes she’s overwhelmed. But no matter how stressful her job as manager of recreation services for the town of Windsor is, she goes to work every day without complaint. Why? Because seeing the impact her and the recreation staff have on young families makes all the six-day work weeks worth it.
Dianne grew up in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia when it was just a small village of about 500 people. Despite the village’s size, Dianne always had something to do. Like small communities in the mid-twentieth century, Dianne’s church became a makeshift rec centre. Her mother taught Sunday school and her father sang in the choir. Between summers swimming at the local pool and winters ice skating at the rink, there was no shortage of fun to have in Lawrencetown. And if there was, Dianne, her friends and family created the fun. And, they did so without all the red tape and waiting games that come with bureaucracy and council meetings.
“Lawrencetown is a model community,” she says. “It was very much a community that said, ‘if we want something, we do it.’”
Dianne’s parents were leaders in their community, and they instilled in their daughter that same sense of duty and responsibility to care for and support others. They taught her that if she wanted something she should go and get it herself. She became a youth leader and now, decades later, she manages dozens upon dozens of afterschool, summer and seasonal youth and adult programs in Windsor.
But with such responsibility comes many challenges. One challenge that Dianne has faced in recent years, is a lack of community involvement from residents and other locals. She believes Windsor is an exciting town hindered only by a lack of community involvement and proper communication. Turnout for public activities is high, but it’s always the same handful of people each year. For the town’s small size, the infrastructure and services available are phenomenal. There’s a golf course, a ski hill, an exhibition ground, a swimming pool and skate park. Still, Dianne couldn’t figure out why so many of these services are left unused or abandoned.
Then Dianne met Barry Braun, founder of the Happy Community Project.
“The Happy Community Project had similar objectives,” she says. “He started to tell me about the Happy Community Project, the philosophy behind it and I pulled out a document we use to guide our recreation strategy. They just dovetailed together.”
Dianne, in her capacity as manager of recreation services, and the Happy Community Project both aim to promote more access and inclusion for families and youth. They want to see more people getting involved in their community, building friendships and sharing responsibility for one another. Seeing how potentially beneficial the Happy Community Project could be in promoting recreation, Dianne didn’t want to waste any more time. So, she joined the Happy Community Project as a core team member.
“I said to Barry, ‘let’s do this!’ Windsor Recreation needed partners. We have a very small staff. Basically, myself and the students do most of the programming and events. It just made sense that if we partner up, we could accomplish much, much more. And I’d say we have.”
Because of Dianne’s experience working for Windsor Recreation, she is a natural fit in the Happy Community Project core team. Her skills as an event organizer and her goals as a community volunteer mesh seamlessly with the Happy Community Project’s mission and have made for better communication and promotion of town activities.
Windsor, and the greater West Hants area, were in the eye of a perfect storm. New businesses were opening downtown. More young families were moving to the area. New developments in the region’s infrastructure and housing were beginning to excite locals and come-from-aways. The town was given a fresh set of eyes and the locals ran with it. The Happy Community Project, much like the eagle that caught our attention moments earlier, may not have been a coincidence after all.
“I think that it was auspicious coincidence…maybe, I don’t know,” she says. “The Happy Community Project wanted to launch at the same time this thing was happening, so it gave both things momentum.”
The Happy Community Project inspired locals to pursue their brightest ideas. All it took was the motivation, resources and shared responsibility to put those ideas into practice. Was the Happy Community Project the cause of so much change? Dianne is unsure. But what she does know is that The Happy Community Project is a piece of the puzzle.
“I’m sure all of these people would have gotten together eventually because they have that interest, but the Happy Community Project expedited things. There’s no question that it was a catalyst for getting the community gardens off the ground, the farmers’ market, the newcomers club, the breakfast back on track. There’s just so many success stories.”
Two years on, Dianne is still up to her neck in work. The Happy Community Project is just another ball in the air, she says. But it has done what she and many other community leaders have set out to do; encourage folks to be involved in their community. More and more each day, the town of Windsor starts to resemble the community Dianne grew up in– one built on the resourcefulness of regular, hardworking people, working together for the benefit of all. And that’s a ball Dianne is willing to juggle.
“If you’re not engaged in your community, you’re more likely to say, ‘they should,’” Dianne says. “If you feel part of it, then it’s more of a ‘we should.’ The more people feel a part of their community, it’s going to shift. Because there is no longer us and them, it’s ‘we’re all one.’”