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Young member profile: Elke Dring on co-ops and community

Published July 23, 2019

A young woman in a green hijab and floral shirt smiles into the camera

Elke Dring

“Co-ops are a great example of people from all walks of life coming together, not just living side-by-side but making important decisions together.”

That’s what Elke Dring loves about co-ops. As someone who’s been a co-op manager for nine years, a co-op member for five, and has also served on the board of her regional co-op housing federation, her dedication to co-ops is clear.

Her first introduction to the co-op model came when she was in university and helped organize a co-operatively run café. When that project ended, she got her first job managing a housing co-op. It was a trial by fire: Ottawa’s Dalhousie Co-op is complex to manage, with 16 different buildings, three funding programs, and several different mortgages, but Elke stuck with it.

And now she wants to make sure that other housing co-op staff and volunteers have the support they need to continue their work.

How can co-op staff and volunteers avoid burnout?

As Elke puts it:

“Co-ops can’t do everything themselves, and we need to start looking outwards, not just inwards. Building partnerships will help stop co-op staff and volunteers from getting burnt out.”

At the co-op where she works, she’s focused on connecting members with services in the larger community, like Community Health and Resource Centres. She’s also worked on supporting members who are bringing more programming to the co-op, including a children’s day camp, having the public library’s Bookmobile visit, and offering life skills workshops for parents and teenagers.

Working together

Community connection is also important to Alex Laidlaw Co-op where Elke lives, which is currently part of a group working to start a community land trust to protect and develop affordable housing in her neighbourhood. “It gives us a chance to work with other housing providers and think long-term to make sure our neighbourhood will keep offering affordable housing, and be able to accommodate members who are aging in place or have other accessibility needs,” says Elke.

Getting young co-op members engaged

Elke is also passionate about helping co-ops engage youth. She suggests co-ops offer young volunteers training like CPR and mental health first aid: things that look good on a resume and that they can use in the rest of their life. She also encourages co-op leaders to consider stepping back and acting as a mentor or support person to help a young member or someone from another underrepresented background get involved.

In an increasingly interconnected world, Elke’s work shows how co-ops can work together and with other organizations to become greater than the sum of our parts.

Do you know an amazing co-op person you’d like to see us profile? Get in touch at info@chfcanada.coop.

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