We Are Here to Help
By Amal Alhomsi
ccording to Plato, the legend goes that when Thoth, the Egyptian god of Magic, created the alphabetic system and presented it to the Egyptian king Thamus, the king rejected the invention on the grounds that writing is “a recipe not for memory, but for reminder.” And that if people relied on writing they will begin to “call things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” The king insisted that such people will “seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing.” On the basis of this story, Nicholas Carr wrote his popular book, The Shallows, where he shows how our technology is neurologically reshaping us & damaging our memory & attention. The title of his book is inspired by Plato’s idea that people who do not rely on technology for their thinking are like wells; minimal in scope yet with immense depth, while those who rely on technology are like swamps; covering substantial areas yet are extremely shallow. Jill, somehow, manages to be the best of these two categories; Her knowledge is truly like an ocean, both deep and far reaching. “I’m a Libra,” Jill said to me ironically, “very well balanced.” But it’s perhaps her balance that proves Plato wrong.
Jill knows everyone, and not in an artificial way. On her personal Instagram page, Jill has no more than 50 followers, but, like a human search engine or a living yellow-pages, if you ask Jill about anyone in town, she will most likely know who they are, what they do, and what they can offer you. “It is my job to know as many people as possible,” she said, “so when somebody asks me ‘how can I do this project’, I can immediately list names of people & resources to connect them with.” Jill works as the Community Development Coordinator for the Town of Banff:
“What Community development people do is they support community based activities, ideas, and initiatives with the notion that people closest to problems & challenges are the ones who can usually solve them, but they are sometimes the furthest removed from the resources, so it’s my job to get them closer to the resources & that can be any kind of asset– It could be funding, it could be as simple as providing space, it could be connecting people.”
It is fascinating to watch Jill do her magic. Just ask her a question, such as ‘I want to start a chess club’ or ‘I’m looking for people to paint nude,’ and Jill will hold her chin with her right hand, slightly shift her green eyes to the sky, and begin the process of listing names of people who might be interested, groups who have done similar things, funds that might be helpful, rules that should be considered, and so on.
1. Jill channeling her inner Claudia Schiffor. 1993
2. Jill & her dog Brooke. 1995
After a series of “bizarre coincidences,” Jill arrived in Banff in 1993. She worked on a ski hill, lived on a ski hill, and got married on a ski hill. When she was hired for her position at the town of Banff, she was asked to “look after food security,” but at the time, Jill was not too sure what that meant. Her husband joked, “is that protecting avocados with machine guns?” However, Jill recalled an experience that happened at the time of her arrival which shaped her understanding of food security:
“I went into a Safeway because it was a safe store. I knew Safeways from the UK and I knew how to navigate my way, but how wrong was I! I couldn’t find anything, and none of the food looked familiar, and what made it even more bizarre was that a lot of the food was turned so it would be French labeling. In the UK we love baked beans, and if you go to a grocery store in the UK, there is a whole aisle dedicated to baked beans, but baked beans are just beans in tomato sauce. So I walk into Safeway and I couldn’t find that aisle, but I did find a very small section that had 12 different types of baked beans, but none of them was a tomato sauce– it was baked beans with molasses, baked beans with maple syrup, baked beans with lard, brown baked beans, BBQ baked beans… my legs just went from underneath me and I crumbled on the floor and burst into tears. I have never felt so homesick, so alone, so out of place in my life. And I didn’t realize how important that moment was until I started working on food security 21 years later. And now I know what food security is about; it’s about personal security, it’s about your sense of belonging, your sense of place, and how hopeful you feel. Our sense of place really hangs its hat on food.”
Jill then went on to establish the Bowvalley Food Alliance, a diverse group of members that ensure equal access to affordable, healthy, and fresh food across the valley. She also took over what was known as the senior lunch and “changed the name to community table thinking ‘let’s gather around the table.’” Historically, food has always been a communal activity, which is why communion & community share their root word, and why we have phrases such as “breaking bread.” A recent study published by the National Library of Medicine linked depression to eating alone, and a research by Quartz magazine revealed that “the negative impacts of eating alone… has been found to be linked to a variety of mental and physical health conditions, from depression and diabetes to high blood pressure.” Nowadays, we pack our breakfasts & eat them on our desks, have our lunches between meetings, and eat our dinners in bed. Even dining space is becoming obsolete in modern design where most apartments are built with kitchens smaller than the bedrooms. Jill has dedicated her time to bridge the gap that capitalism has created between food & community: “Food insecurity is not only a Banff problem,” commented Jill, “it’s a world problem. I cannot solve the world’s problems, but I do think that we should solve Banff’s problem as a cohesive group in the Bowvalley.”
However, as most locals know, the community of the valley is highly transient, and the turnover is consistent. But Jill, being a Libra, sees the challenge as an opportunity:
“I see both sides. From a stability standpoint, a change over six months to two years is challenging for a community, for employers, for housing, for having a sense of belonging. We are known to the world as a place where anyone can come and find a job, but the downside is not shown. HOWEVER, the positive side, and I truly believe this, is that turnover means that the community is so dynamic we always have new perspectives. We are a leader of visionary thinking, and how we go about solving problems. We are the community that so many other communities look to for solutions for their own problems. We are usually three years ahead of other communities because whatever else is going around the world ends up here first. We get the first of it. We can’t stagnate! The turnover never allows the water to still. We are always flowing, and with that comes new ideas, new energy, new perspectives. We are always learning. We are never complacent. We never allow the status quo. If you think about it, Banff is that gathering place. We have the continental divide here. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think nature and humanity really want to be in harmony here, and Banff does provide the space. We are regenerative. That’s the thing about nature, it is regenerative.
Does a community have to be the same thing for all of the time? Not really.”
Goosebumps? Imagine hearing it in person. As a parting question, I asked Jill about her advice as a community coordinator for newcomers & people who are seeking resources:
“The one unique thing about the Town of Banff, and I’m talking about the municipality, is that it truly stands by its motto; We are Here to Help. It does not make any sense to walk to any government building if you are feeling isolated, but we are that unique space and place where you can do that and be connected to an activity, or a group, or someone who will help you find your sense of belonging.”
If you need resources of any kind, go to Town Hall at 110 bear Street and walk towards the community services desk. You will not be disappointed!
* This interview was conducted before the loss of Ethan Enns-Goneau. Hence, the lack of questions revolving the loss.
1- Excerpts from Plato's dialogue, Phaedrus, are taken from the popular translations by Reginald Hackforth and Benjamin Jowett.
2- Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think Read and Remember. Atlantic Books, 2020.
3- Park, Joonyoung, and Gyeongsil Lee. “Association of Eating Alone with Depressive Symptoms and Suicidal Ideation among Korean Adults.” Korean Journal of Family Medicine, Korean Academy of Family Medicine, May 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8164923/#:~:text=Eat%20alone%20was%20associated%20with,in%20the%20eating%20alone%20group.
4- Anna Davies, Agnese Cretella. “Solo Dining Is Bad for Our Mental Health-and for the Planet.” Quartz, Quartz, https://qz.com/1738347/eating-alone-is-bad-for-our-mental-health-and-the-planet/.