St. Stephen – The St. Stephen chapter of Dialogue NB was at the Kiwanis Trade Show in early May doing what they do best – dialoguing with the community.
Amelie Barham, at 14-years-old, is “by far the youngest” member of Dialogue NB. She was also the driving force behind the first official Dialogue NB event in St. Stephen, organizing and facilitating a lot of what went on in the trade show booth.
According to Barham, “Dialogue NB is a provincial organization based in Moncton. Originally it was about bringing Francophone and Anglophone groups together, and now it’s grown to uniting New Brunswick as a whole,” working towards creating community out of the varied economic backgrounds, religions, and languages of the residents of NB.
Dialogue NB member, Karen Hillmer Peterson, said, “We decided that for our first event, we wanted to just listen to the community, and kind of get a sense of how people feel about the community and a little bit towards what are some of their dreams for our community.”
Barham agreed, saying “Our goal was to just talk to people living in St. Stephen and Charlotte County, and just make them feel heard,” adding, “We also wanted to hear what they had to say about the town, and what they would want to change and what they felt could bring them closer to other people in the community.”
Out of the brainstorming sessions that Dialogue NB held, two questions came up that they felt would achieve these goals. First, they simply asked people what they like about Charlotte County. Second, they asked what would help residents here feel more connected to others in the community.
“It was overwhelming positive,” said Peterson, adding that during its brainstorming sessions, the members of the St. Stephen chapter of Dialogue NB realized that many people talk within their small group of people that they know and they “toss around ideas, and have a vision for the town and where they would like to see things go.”
“And what I felt like this did was kind of opened up that conversation, and then you realize that everybody’s having those conversations within their own circles.”
Barham added that it was really exciting to talk to that many people in St. Stephen, to get to hear their insights and ideas for the town, “Because it doesn’t feel like there’s a really easy way for people to do that right now.”
The group has put together a report on the data that they gathered from the approximately 200 people who stopped by the booth during the trade show. “And we went through that in two separate meetings,” said Barham, “and now we have to decide what we’re really going to focus on going forward, and what we want to hand over to other people and what we want to pursue ourselves.”
Barham said the key takeaways for her were people overwhelmingly talked about how they loved the tight knit community in Charlotte County, but that they struggled to find information on events or programs happening in the community which would allow them to broaden their social circle.
Some of the other suggestions with a large amount of support were pointing out the issue of transportation in the community, more group activities for children, and more support – like in the form of child care – for working parents.
“Transportation was a really big thing, which we were expecting,” said Barham, recognizing that rural access to transportation is a significant issue in Charlotte County.
When asked what she hoped to see come out of the St. Stephen chapter of Dialogue NB, Barham said, “Well, I want to fulfill the provincial mandate which is to unite people, recognizing that their differences are actually strengths, but I also want to make the community feel better connected.
“I feel like right now people don’t really know each other, and there isn’t really a great way to connect to other people, especially for newcomers. You kind of have to be in the in crowd. I don’t want to say that, but kind of have to be like in the center of St. Stephen and you have to make a lot of effort to hear what’s going on.
“I hope that Dialogue NB can help a little bit with that, and help connect lots of different people through things that they’re all passionate about. Hopefully, we can find common ground between people and use that common ground to unite them and bring them together.”
As a representative of younger generations, Barham is much more active and aware of local issues than most adults give young people credit for. She said, “I think that it’s a lot more common for children and teenagers to be involved in politics,” and that she and her peers have a real desire to create a better world, whether it be on the local or global level.
“I think, mostly because of social media, we have access to so many more resources. And I think it’s a lot easier for teenagers to get involved and since teenagers are so plugged into social media, they see world news, and they’re seeing what’s going on, and they want to be involved.”
As for what attracted her to Dialogue NB, Barham said, “I like that they’re trying to unite people. And I like that they want to bring different people together.”
“I think that meeting people who are different from yourself is a good way to learn about the world, and it’s also really fun. Sometimes people don’t realize it’s not just like an educational thing,” she adds, “It’s also just fun to meet people who are different from you.”