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Sunshine Initiative forum sheds light on some bright ideas

About 50 citizens pitched ideas at grass-roots forum; 'I wanted to get involved in the community,' says teen who put forward idea of creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth

From small ideas sometimes come big projects.

That grassroots approach was front and centre at St. James' Anglican Church Saturday as area residents gathered for the Sunshine Initiative’s citizens’ forum. The fifth annual event attracted close to 50 Orillia residents all hoping to make the place they call home a better place.

Event convenor Gord Ball said the forum gives everyone the chance to present an idea and hear what others think of it.

“If someone says ‘I want to paint all the hydrants pink’ then this is the place to float the idea and see what others think of it,” Ball said. 

After presenting their ideas that were written on a large board in a church assembly room, attendees separated into smaller groups to talk about how one of those ideas could be developed into something tangible.

Ideas presented Saturday ran the full gamut from banning single-use containers at local restaurants and fast-food locations to creating a more walkable Orillia.

With an aim to stimulate actions that make Orillia happier and healthier, the citizen-led project was launched by Mayor Steve Clarke several years ago with a goal of making the city “an even better place to live, work and play.”

Like many others in attendance, Kathy Manners has been involved since the outset.

“We’ve heard over 100 ideas with 25 of them implemented,” Manners said, noting close to 400 people have attended the sessions over the years.

Manners said the forum also helps develop further relationships and strengthen existing ones.

Ball agreed, noting the forum continues to prove popular.

“We’re still getting good numbers,” he said. “We have some of the usual suspects who have been here every year, but we’re also getting some new people out. We have a nice range of ages.”

Ball said the important thing remains the forum’s low-key approach. 

“Often, people talking about these kinds of ideas are with institutions (government). We wanted to get to the grassroots.”

One of those ideas presented Saturday would lead to the creation of a seniors’ news network designed to help those without internet access or who have vision problems.

“They can call in and hear a news blast,” said idea proponent and city councillor Jay Fallis, noting the idea has been percolating since the Orillia Packet & Times closed its doors in late 2017.

Fallis said the news report could be styled after a CBC Radio newscast and last about three minutes.

“The longevity of it will not be that long, but right now there’s a need,” he said, adding that almost all of future senior-citizen populations will likely be more technologically savvy.

“I’ve gotten a sense that there is community interest in this idea.”

Olivia Jensen, a Grade 11 student at Orillia Secondary School, was the forum’s youngest participant at age 16.

“I wanted to get involved in the community,” said Jensen, who presented the idea of creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth.

Saturday's forum is the forerunner to the Orillia Choice Awards held in the spring.

During that Dragons’ Den-style event, smaller groups take an idea initially hatched during this weekend's forum and develop it over the winter before presenting it to a panel in the hopes of not only winning approval for their project, but also some seed money to take it to the next level.

Past winners include the ‘Cup of Sugar’ campaign that matched people’s needs with those who could lend a hand, a renewable energy campaign that has seen solar panels featured as part of the new recreation centre and a move to promote bilingualism in the city with an eye to creating bilingual childcare.

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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