Published on January 11, 2021

Keeping Neighbourhoods Connected

Tracy Kociuba is the self-proclaimed “Harriet Oleson” of her neighbourhood and one of the first to become an official neighbourhood connector with the City of St. Albert. She’s also spent her years as a mother teaching her now 14, 16 and 18-year-old sons how to help those around them as well. You could say being neighbourly is a family affair in her household.

“You always helped your neighbours. Always sociable with your neighbours. I grew up that way and my kids have grown up that way. Now if they see a neighbour in need they typically don’t even ask they just go do it,” says Tracy.

From throwing block parties for over 20 years to making sure her family is available to help out whenever there is a need, keeping the whole neighbourhood connected was a natural progression for her.

“There is a lot of services that the City provides that sometimes the average citizen may not know about, so one of the purposes of the connectors was to gather information and share it at the grassroots level,” explains Tracy.

Two children holding food from a box for the food bank

Two of Tracy’s sons modelling the haul of "loot" from one of the food bank drives her neighbourhood put together during a block party.

Her own neighbourhood of Lucerne Crescent, in Lacombe Park, has a Facebook page, e-mail contact list and newsletter that she coordinates. This helps keep residents informed about a variety of topics that are related to their needs.

Additionally, other neighbours share their time and knowledge. One retired conservation officer cleaned up the community green space, worked with City planners when some dying trees along the back street needed to be cut down, and then took the time to teach the younger generation in the neighbourhood as well. Others created jam sessions during block parties, coordinated the Little Free Library or sewed masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you inspire kindness and leave the door open it comes back. It isn’t just what I do. Everyone in the neighbourhood in some way has stepped up and done something.”

When her father had to go for open heart surgery a few years ago and she was looking after her mom and living at the hospital her neighbours were there for her family. They drove her kids to and from school, made dinner, got groceries and kept her household running when she couldn’t be there in person to do it. “Neighbours who are there when you need them are the best of all. My next door neighbours are surrogate grandparents to my kids and a few houses around here the kids if wanted could call aunty and uncle.”

As the pandemic continues, she’s found that some people are struggling with how to stay connected or to reach out if help is needed. She wants to reinforce to St. Albert residents not to be afraid to ask for help and that there are ways to assist others while staying safe. It could be as simple as leaving a delivery on a doorstep, shoveling someone’s driveway throughout the winter or staying in contact through phone/e-mail.

For those not knowing where to start, Tracy suggests just keeping it meaningful. For example, dropping off a card at a senior’s home who is living alone or leaving a bag of diapers on the doorstep of a new mom.

Messages of positivity displayed in a window

One of the seniors in the neighbourhood of Lucerne Crescent sending messages of positivity to the community.

“Start small, one neighbour at a time. Keep putting yourself out there and eventually those connections all happen on their own,” adds Tracy. “You aren’t going to build a house or a family overnight. You can’t build a neighbourhood overnight. You do a little at a time. If you put yourself out there, you may not get an immediate response and that’s okay.”

For herself, getting together and meeting neighbours started off by her husband going out to clean the garage and just leaving the garage door up. Someone would walk by and stop to chat and then another and before she knew it the kids were running in to get chips and drinks creating their first “block party.” 

Find fun and safe ways to stay social at along the Path to Neighbourhood Connection. Please remember to follow all current Provincial public health measures on COVID-19 when interacting with anyone outside your household.

Please note all block parties/gatherings referenced in this article took place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of publication on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, block parties are prohibited as per Provincial public health measures restricting indoor and outdoor social gatherings. 

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Last edited: January 12, 2021