10 Ideas to Change Waterloo Region

10 ideas logo

It starts with an idea.

Any project comes from the kernel of something small. It could be from reading a book, listening to music, seeing a need in your community or just from out of the blue. Sometimes we forget about ideas as soon as they appear, and other times they haunt us for years.

10 ideas to change Waterloo is a collection of ideas. Some of these ideas are big. Some are small. Some are just starting — they’re still just a kernel, though they could become something more. Some are already chugging along.

We can see the difference they’ve made already.

The 10 Ideas to Change Waterloo are:

Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-operative
At The Root Working Musicians Co-operative
Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region
EPYC 2014
Incredible Edible Waterloo
Caribbean Dreams
Climate Change Toolkit
Savvy Planet

Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-operative

Ben Roberts and Culum Canally  doing “field research.” • Photograph courtesy TWB
Ben Roberts and Culum Canally doing “field research.” • Photograph courtesy TWB

Together they’re bitter — at least when it comes to their taste in beer.

In truth, the team behind Together We’re Bitter Brewing Co-operative (TWB), is the very opposite. They are completely enthusiastic about building a community of beer lovers in Waterloo Region.

“That’s the whole idea,” explained Alex Szaflarska, one of the cooperative members. “Spreading that network and getting people on board and really energizing the community around great beer and great food.”

The team of seven co-op members came together because of their own love of great beer and food.

A good chunk of the team studies geography at Wilfrid Laurier. But in their spare time, they were hanging out with Culum Canally, who home brews a wide variety of beers. A constant tinkerer, he has over 100 beer recipes.

His passion got the wheels turning for the rest of the team — why not open a brew pub?

But TWB will not be a normal brew pub. The team decided to use the workers cooperative model – which means everyone, from the servers they will eventually hire to the brewer, will make a living wage and get a say in how the business runs.

“We wanted to do something a bit different,” said Szaflarska. “[We] wanted to figure out a way to make sure that everybody’s voice was heard.”

TWB doesn’t have a physical space yet, but the team behind is planning to start branching into the community by hosting events throughout the next year.

They are also doing outreach to gather community support for their project. The goal is to use good food and beer as the jumping off point for contributing to a prosperous community.

Everything is building towards opening a bar where people can come for more than just a pint – they can come for the sense of the community. – H.G. Watson

At The Root Working Musicians Co-operative

 Janice Lee, Richard Garvey and friend perform at Cafe Pyrus. • Photograph courtesy Silvara Bailey.
Janice Lee, Richard Garvey and friend perform at Cafe Pyrus. • Photograph courtesy Silvara Bailey.

At The Root working musician’s co-operative will bring musicians and their audiences together to ensure the vitality of Waterloo Region’s music scene.

The collective will host shows, promote artists, share resources and provide educational opportunities to help musicians grow and thrive in this community. Audiences will benefit from a stronger music scene with more opportunities to support and enjoy local music.

“The K-W scene is happening,” said Richard Garvey, At The Root organizer. “There’s lots going on but it’s happening in pockets of people and there are no structures or consistent ways to reach all our audiences.”

A veteran of the K-W music scene, Garvey has been booking shows at Cafe Pyrus in downtown Kitchener for three years. He says that gaining that collective bargaining power is important to ensure that artists are being fairly compensated for their talents.

“Right now it’s almost like venues are doing us [artists] a favour and we can’t negotiate better pay,” he explained. “I love to play shows but I also can’t do it for free.”

At The Root developed as a way of addressing this inequity. The cooperative proposes two kinds of memberships, which vary on a sliding scale price. Musicians can join the cooperative as working members by paying an annual fee between $10 and $25 and doing a selection of volunteer tasks like postering and playing fundraising shows.

“By working together, we [artists] can build our audiences and gain collective bargaining power with venues and key industry members,” Garvey said.

Community members will join the co-operative as “audience members” by paying an annual fee and joining a mailing list. They will be updated about performances and events, receiving special promotions, tickets and incentives from artists

The co-op will host their first community music festival in August 2014. – Juliana Gomez

Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region

A Social Ventures Program meeting at the Tannery building in Kitchener. • Photograph courtesy SVP.
A Social Ventures Program meeting at the Tannery building in Kitchener. • Photograph courtesy SVP.

Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region (SVP) is a network of local individuals who believe in building the community and making it a better place. These individuals work together in pooling their financial resources, time, talents and connections to invest in nonprofits, aiding them in reaching the next level in their organization.

Formed by Rosemary Smith of the Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation, SVP is based around a model that started in Seattle in 1997, and is now active in 33 cities.

Executive Director Jennifer King describes SVP as an organization for ‘citizen philanthropy’— not just the rich, but anyone within the community willing to donate. “People pool together what they can,” she said. “So it is about getting more money into not-for-profits, helping them to grow and make a bigger impact.”

In less than three years, they have invested close to $200,000 in five local nonprofit organizations, as well as donating hundreds of hours in time and talent to help the organizations grow and create more of an impact within the community.

King hopes their impact is much wider than investment. “Our bigger mission is really about growing philanthropists,” she said. “How do we get more people engaged in their community? How do we educate each other about what the not-for-profit sector is all about? How do we educate ourselves about issues that are facing kids and families?”

“We grew by about 33 per cent last year, our hope is to do that again every year or better.”

Recently SVP began an SVP Teens program, hoping to build young philanthropists and family philanthropy. This program will be making its first grant this summer to a program that helps youth access programs they wouldn’t normally be able to afford.

“[SVP’s success] comes down to everyone involved, or even our supporters and not-for-profits, all loving our community,” said King. “That’s why we do this. We love Waterloo Region and we see things that we could improve and we want to work together to make that happen.” – Tegan Thuss

EPYC 2014

In a community brimming with creative activity, the Empowering Proactive Youth and Communities (EPYC) initiative is ensuring that the next generation of social entrepreneurs is supported and nurtured.

Co-founders Lucas Rowe and Angel Hammoud both worked on TEDxYouth@Waterloo in 2013. “The biggest problem we were having with TEDx was that it was one day and nothing came after to further the ability of youth to move forward with ideas generated on that day,” said Rowe.

“We thought that was a shame, to not leverage the enthusiasm youth were experiencing on the day-of.”

In partnership with Volunteer Action Centre (VAC), EPYC has created a series of experiences for creative youth to help them start successful social-based initiatives.

“Part of starting EPYC was navigating existing programs in the community, we weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” said Rowe. “It made sense for us to connect with VAC because their mandate connected with ours, and having a partnership with an established and well-connected charity was essential to our success.”

Through mentoring and development programs, the EPYC team works with youth to discover the interests, ideas and skills that will give them direction and prepare them for success after high school.

In 2014, EPYC will host a trilogy of initiatives focused on engaging youth in starting their own social enterprises, including connecting them with resources and funding to start up successfully.

The first initiative is the SparKW contest, which ran from January 1 to March 30 and accepted idea submissions for social growth in KW from youth under 19.

Finalists in the contest will present at the EPYC2014 conference, the second initiative, which will take place on May 13 at THEMUSEUM.

The conference will bring 150 K-W youth together with 30 local leaders and professionals to brainstorm creative solutions for common issues facing communities in K-W.

Twenty young innovators will be selected from EPYC2014 and invited to a social entrepreneur summer camp, to be held in July at St. Paul’s College GreenHouse at the University of Waterloo.

The camp will be focused on moving the participants towards the creation of a business model and connecting them with the resources to help them see the project through to completion, said Rowe.

“The goal is to produce 20 social entrepreneurs who have initiatives and ideas, and connecting those entrepreneurs with strong mentors and opportunities for funding.”

For more information, go to epycintiatives.com. – Erin O’Neil.

Incredible Edible Waterloo

Rachel Thevenard, the organizer of Incredible Edible Waterloo. • Matthew Smith, CCE Contributor
Rachel Thevenard, the organizer of Incredible Edible Waterloo. • Matthew Smith, CCE Contributor

Imagine a Waterloo Region that supported a movement of planting trees and vegetables, along with fruit and berry bushes, on every corner, in every part of town. Sounds implausible, right? Not if Incredible Edible Waterloo has anything to say about it.

“The project is just in its inception — I was inspired by a Facebook picture of a small mill town called Todmorden, England, which started the Incredible Edible Campaign,” said project coordinator and volunteer Rachel Thevenard.

Through the project, she hopes to increase awareness about food security and the environmental impact of food distribution.
Fully embracing a utopian approach to resource sharing, the project would be nowhere without its volunteers and private donors.

Supporters of the project plant seeds, maintain their growth, and purchase any supplies.

Thevenard hopes governmental support will come as the project grows: “[Right now it’s] friendly smiles and carrots. Government will be involved at a funding level, if possible.”

All of the food planted will be free for the taking because Thevenard believes that income should not be a barrier to nutrition.

The benefits of the project go beyond unlimited access to delicious food.

“Environment will be impacted by less carbon dioxide in the air as the plants change carbon dioxide to oxygen and people walk or bike to pick their food instead of driving to buy it,” said Tevenard.

“Animals benefit not only from the improved air quality and environment, but the organic produce will also be non- harmful to bees and other insects which pollinate our food.”

According to the team, growing food in open spaces makes sense and if the project can be successful in one town, it could be successful here.

An ambitious five-year timeline would see vegetable gardens and fruit bushes at all campuses and parks, with food on the tops of buses, and hydroponic greenhouses supplying all the produce in Waterloo Region.

“Humans will benefit from eating more vegetables and fruits, and walking or biking to get their produce.” – Anna Beard


One of three 2014 initiatives run by another 10 Ideas finalist, EPYC (Empowering Proactive Youth and Communities), the SparKW contest challenges youth under 19 in the KW area to submit their best idea for sparking social growth in the region.

The contest was designed to empower youth to be socially active in their own community and inspire them to initiate and experience activism first-hand. Contest organizers Tibor Kovacs, Teddy Nikolov and Brad Golding are living this goal: they are student mentees through the EPYC program and took on the contest project as a way of putting their acquired skills to the test.

“Our mentor-mentee relationship with Brad, Teddy and Tibor was so informal, we wanted them to be working on a tangible community-based project that would reflect the skills they were learning,” said Lucas Rowe, co-founder of EPYC. “They came up with the idea of ‘why don’t we run a contest that engages youth?’”

The competition, which closed March 30, asked youth contestants to develop their social growth idea into a three to five minute video that not only showed what they wanted to accomplish, but also how they would go about accomplishing it and where they see the idea evolving in one year. The video submissions also had to include a case for why the idea is important to youth and to the community.

A committee of SparKW organizers and contributors will have to choose the best of the bunch, and four finalists will be announced in mid-April.

Entries will be judged on the research and credibility of the submission, the creativity, feasibility and ingenuity of the idea, and the articulation and communication skills of the individual or team entry.

The organizers hope that the process will expose the creativity of K-W’s youth and get the community to pay attention.
“We know there are a lot of good ideas but youth don’t have the sounding board to move that forward or the resources and relationships to make it happen,” said Rowe.

The SparKW finalists will be invited to attend the EPYC2014 youth social change conference on May 13, where they will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Three of the top finalists will win cash prizes from $500 to $2500 to help fund their ideas.

Twenty handpicked delegates from the EPYC2014 conference, including SparKW finalists, will then head to a social entrepreneur summer camp at University of Waterloo in July to put their ideas into practice.

“The goal is to engage youth with ideas to change Waterloo Region, and connect them with the resources to do so,” said Rowe.
For more information, go to sparkw.ca. – Erin O’Neil.

Caribbean Dreams

Alannah Chantel Mason performs. • Photograph courtesy Caribbean Dreams.
Alannah Chantel Mason performs. • Photograph courtesy Caribbean Dreams.

Now in its 12th year, the Caribbean Dreams concert has built its reputation on bringing a little taste of Caribbean life and culture to the K-W community.

Organizer Narine Dat Sookram is still happily surprised by the interest the concert generates from all over the region.
“We have people from Cambridge coming who are actually part of the show,” he said. Their website has also been getting over 4,000 hits a month from computers all over the world.

“We realized we have something going on,” Sookram said. The community-focused event was created to help expose people to Caribbean culture while also giving the Caribbean community an opportunity to have what Sookram describes as a sense of home.

The concert highlights a number of performing arts disciplines, from belly dancing to singing. The focus is on developing young or untested talent. Many people come to Sookram who want to perform but may have a touch of stage fright. He helps them along so that by the day of the concert, they’re ready to hop on stage.

The result is that some of the earliest stars of Caribbean Dreams have gone on to have professional entertainment careers. Sookram notes that among his alumni are DJs and rappers. “All of that came through this Caribbean Dreams concert,” said Sookram. “The idea is to empower them so they can bring their best out of themselves with the performing arts.”

These days, Sookram is never wanting for people to perform at the concert. He’s also turned it into a financially sustainable organization with a number of high profile sponsors.

This year’s concert takes place on May 31 at the Country Hills Community Centre. -H.G. Watson.


Juliana Gomez, the brains behind the LiveLocalKW initiative. • Photograph by Matthew Smith.
Juliana Gomez, the brains behind the LiveLocalKW initiative. • Photograph by Matthew Smith.

LiveLocalKW is a one week challenge for community members to support neighbourhood businesses and organizations by eating, shopping and playing local.

The idea for this challenge was formed by Juliana Gomez, whose original approach was to tweet personally about a week during which she lives completely local. She then decided to take it a step further.

“I thought that it would be really cool to try to live one week everything local and tweet it to people, and then I thought about it more,” she said. “If I got a lot more people doing it then it would be cool to have businesses do a little something to encourage people to live local for that week.”

This challenge would not only benefit businesses that would not necessarily be the first or most convenient choice for residents, but individuals involved would really develop an understanding of their city and what is available to them in their neighbourhood.

“I live uptown and the closest coffee place to me is Starbucks, so the challenge would be to walk a little farther and go to Seven Shores or Death Valleys Little Brother,” Gomez said.

So far, Gomez has approached different businesses, community groups and community leaders to ask about their interest in the challenge. All of the conversations have been positive.

Special discounts will be put in place by local businesses to participants of LiveLocalKW. There will also be special programming scheduled by community groups and organizations, to excite those involved and perhaps engage others in the challenge. It is based on the honour system, with the challenge asking that for any “cheats” you set aside a toonie — and by the end of the week any collection you have from your “cheats” would then be donated to a local non-profit or charitable organization.

“I’m building up interest before I set everything up, so that when I do the idea is to have a central website where people can sign up, both individually and businesses,” Gomez explained. “If I can get a good vibe going on, then people will just sign up for it. It’s one of those things that is going to grow exponentially.”

Gomez hopes this program will help spur people to step outside their comfort zone, even sparking people to wonder what ‘local’ really means to them. Does it mean everything must be made locally by the business, or could it be a franchise owned and operated by a local resident?

“I hope that people will take a closer look at our community and notice that there is a lot of cool stuff going on here and it’s so accessible.”

The challenge is set for the week of September 14-20, 2014. – Tegan Thuss.

Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit

  The toolkit launch at Kitchener City Hall. • Photographs by Matthew Smith.
The toolkit launch at Kitchener City Hall. • Photographs by Matthew Smith.

Based on the transition movement started in the U.K., Transition K-W aims to bring together the community to increase awareness and foster sustainability in the face of the oncoming crises of peak oil and climate change.

They have produced a Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit in hopes of empowering residents to take control of how they handle the effects of climate change.

By creating a booklet comprised of both actions and resources, Transition KW hopes to turn conversations surrounding adaptation and mitigation into tangible action.

“We are so lucky here in the region to have the resources we do,” said co-project manager Kara Schimmelfing. “By focusing on adaptation and preventative action at the individual level, we can make the situation less daunting to the average citizen while seeing real concrete benefits in our community.”

The toolkit, which launched at the end of March, promotes the idea that small improvements can lead to a big shift in how we deal with changing climates.

“We hope to reach a variety of individuals in the region from a variety of walks of life through several outreach efforts,” explained Schimmelfing. “Of course we hope that those that visit our website or read our toolkit will be inspired to make one or more changes, but also that this will inspire a wider discussion about preparedness and climate change among friends and neighbours.”

From reducing electricity and energy dependence and protecting your home from storm overflows to increasing your use of public transit and taking part in building up your community, the toolkit is broken into sections that make it easy to navigate and digest.

“Every single one of us can help build regional resilience. If enough of us work together we can be prepared, as a region, for climate change,” said Schimmelfing. “There is so much potential in this toolkit for community building and positive change related to our water and energy resources, food and agriculture and transportation systems.”

Transition K-W is working with the City of Kitchener and is supported through the Region of Waterloo Community Environmental Fund. The Intact Climate Change Adaptation Project has allowed the group to add the toolkit to libraries within the region.

Getting the toolkit into the hands of residents is one thing, but Schimmelfing thinks that it’s the success stories and actions of those same people that will drive the success of the project.

“It is hard to say what the positive impact of the toolkit will be at this early stage. We will be tracking the success stories and actions completed by local individuals on our website, toolkit.transitionkw.com.” she said. “We hope over the following seasons to continue adding to and improving the toolkit so it evolves with the region’s progress and feedback.” -Anna Beard.

Savvy Planet

  Charlotte Armstrong on her throne. • Photograph by Matthew Smith.
Charlotte Armstrong on her throne. • Photograph by Matthew Smith.

Charlotte Armstrong gets what nerds want.

The self-proclaimed “science fiction super nerd” has a hand in almost all of the cool, nerdy events in K-W, from organizing Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in STEM industries to, of course, the now monthly Nerd Nite events in downtown Kitchener.
But she saw that there was the need for an organization that could connect all the other great events in town.

“For example, with the gaming community, there are so many different monthly events that are happening all over the place,” Armstrong explained. “But they don’t tend to know each other.”

And so, Savvy Planet was born. Helmed by Armstrong, it will create what she hopes will be a community building organization that promotes nerd culture and contributes to the knowledge economy in Waterloo Region.

One way she plans on doing this is through her own events. She started on March 29 with Nerd Fest, a mega-sized version of Nerd Nite where double the number of presenters gave talks on subjects as diverse as sharks and video game history. Meanwhile participants got to try their hand at board and video games – including Oculus Rift, the 3D gaming system recently purchased by Facebook.

Armstrong also plans to support other organizations, whether it’s by fundraising to help pay conference registration fees for a deserving student or putting on events that make use of her own know-how. For example, at the upcoming Waterloo Maker Faire on June 14, she and her Nerd Nite crew will be hosting the first ever Waterloo Robot Walk – the shiny, metal cousin of the Zombie Walk as a way of promoting the Maker Faire.

Participants are encouraged to wear costumes and make their way down King St. doing their best robot walk.

Though an event like Robot Walk is all about fun, Armstrong believes all of these events help enrich Kitchener by creating a community of people who want to learn.

“The core base of Waterloo Region … is knowledge economy, which is richer than anywhere else in Canada,” Armstrong explained. “We want to be able to support that.” -H.G. Watson