When Sandra Hutley strolls along Lawrence Avenue East, what for most people would be a five-minute walk can stretch into half an hour.
That’s because Hutley stops to talk with residents, vendors, police officers and local politicians. Everyone seems to know her.
“You never get lonely as long as you know your community,” the woman, who others call West Hill’s most involved resident, says with her contagious laugh.
“She’s amazing,” says Ian Duncan, coordinator of Action Neighbourhood Change. “She contributes to the community in more ways than one can count.”
Hutley has been a West Hill resident for more than 35 years. But she’s been more than a resident. Ever since she moved to the area, Hutley has worked with community groups.
Hutley is part of Residents Rising, the Neighbourhood Action Partnership (NAP), the Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), Storefront, and Community Festival Market.
She’s also the president of Lakeside Social Club, a group for residents at West Hill apartments. The club organizes activities, like game nights and nights out, and also sells cheap lunch to tenants.
“I figured the Lakeside Social club was just another way to reach out in this community,” Hutley said. “And I always wanted to reach out.”
Though Hutley is 65-years-old, she said she’s a young senior who never gets tired of helping. And her constant smile proves so. When she shares her volunteer experiences, she animates them with laughs. For her, community work is not a burden — it’s what makes her happy.
This year Hutley received a Quick Start grant for the Community Festival Market. As the vendor coordinator she will use the grant to buy more tables, chairs and tents. The market is open in the summer on Lawrence Avenue East and Kingston Road. It offers entertainment, showcases local talent and allows residents to sell food and goods.
“The market is a great asset for our community,” Hutley said. “We have very creative residents but they don’t have a venue to sell their crafts.”
Hutley said she would like the community to have a building where the market could be placed for the whole year. She also thinks the neighbourhood needs a skateboard park for children and youth.
“Parking lots are full of children skateboarding and it’s not safe. They shouldn’t be there,” Hutley said.
But Hutley wants more than parks.
“I want to see more youth involvement to get their input and hear their needs,” Hutley said. “West Hill has great youth but they need to be more active in their community.”
She’s always looking for opportunities to contribute locally. This Christmas she will help at West Hill Community Services by wrapping gifts for the needy children of the area. She also plans to volunteer at a new after-school program near her house.
Giving back to the community has simply become part of Hutley’s life, but it all started about 30 years ago with the Tiny Tots program. Hutley and other mothers from the West Hill community organized a program to take care of each other’s kids so that mothers could do errands without having to pay for babysitters.
“We were residents helping residents,” Hutley said.
Though the toddlers are now grown up Hutley continues to help residents in other ways. She is a member of two NAP’s committees, community development and community safety. She works with other agencies to hold meetings where residents voice their concerns and ideas to improve the area.
“The Community Speak meetings are very important for residents because they have the opportunity to discuss local issues with the community workers who can help them make changes,” Hutley said.
For Hutley one of the main local issues is safety. That’s why she joined CPLC where she networks with police officers and crime prevention staff. She talks to them about safety concerns in the area and invites them to Community Speak.
“If you meet officers and build relationships with them it becomes a lot easier to get them to help you,” Hutley said.
She even received a “beautiful letter” from the police for her work in building a safer community. She started a Safe and Secure committee at her former residence, West Hill apartments.
“In community housing, delinquency and crime rates tend to be higher so more attention to security is required,” Hutley said.
Another program she created at her complex was the Supportive Services for Seniors. Most residents were seniors and didn’t want to go to nursing homes but they still needed some essential services, Hutley explains. She developed this project by working with police, politicians, residents and agencies.
“We had a lot of agencies in the community but they weren’t connected so we got them to come to our meetings to connect them better so that they would be more efficient,” Hutley said.
Although it’s hard for Hutley to select her biggest accomplishment she says that if she has to pick one it would be the programs at West Hill apartments.
But her true impact lies on her example as a model resident. It’s her dedication, enthusiasm and laugh that make her popular in the community. And her main goal is to encourage people to be active like her. She simply asks residents to “get involved.”
“Resident involvement is what’s going to make West Hill a better place.”