Friday, 06 July 2018 04:28

Swift Current resident receives SEDA lifetime achievement award

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John Parker's passion for community economic development during a 29-year career with Community Futures has been recognized with a lifetime achievement award.


The Saskatchewan Economic Development Alliance (SEDA) awarded the 2018 John P. Sutherland Lifetime Achievement Award to Parker for being a strong advocate for Saskatchewan and for community development in particular.
He is a former chair of the SEDA board of directors and until his recent retirement in mid-June he was the general manager of Community Futures Southwest in Swift Current.
“It's a humbling experience to be recognized for something that you simply do because you want to do it,” he said about the award.
He became the general manager of Community Futures Southwest office in Swift Current in November 2004. His dedication to community economic development resulted from a career with Community Futures that took him to different parts of the country.
“I suppose my passion is seeing people wanting to participate in change within their communities,” he said. “I get excited about going out and being part of projects. I get excited to see people wanting to make change. When I go into communities and I talk to communities, I say 'Yes, you can.'”
He compared his attitude towards community economic development to the character Tigger from the children's story Winnie-the-Pooh. Tigger is excited about things and if he falls down he will bounce back. The alternative is to be like Eeyore, who is pessimistic and who does not think it is worth trying something.
“I think that's a pretty good analogy of my passion,” he said. “I want to see Tiggers, I don't want to see Eeyores. When I see that kind of change and when a community comes together and they say we've formed an economic development committee, can you come and talk to us, or we're ready to do a project, can you come out.”
He always enjoyed that interaction with communities to talk about their ideas for economic development and the support that Community Futures can provide.
“There certainly is a sense of satisfaction when we finished working on a project and walk away and look at the difference,” he said. “You see the people from the community who worked on the project standing there and saying 'We've made a change.'”
That change will often start with a few people in a community who will start an initiative and then more people will get involved when they start to see the benefit of a project.
“From the community economic development perspective that's exciting when you see that kind of attitude change from the coffee shop of woe is me and who's going to turn out the lights when the last person leaves to the attitude of we're going to change our image and we're going to make a difference,” he said. “In some communities it's even gone down to the fact that students from schools have been involved with projects. So it's a growth thing and it's the exciting part of doing community economic development to see change.”
In addition to providing financial assistance to entrepreneurs and small businesses, the Community Futures Southwest office has focused on supporting economic development through community beautification programs.
“If you want people to move into your community, the first impression is very important,” he said. “You need to look after yourself as a community if you want to grow and attract businesses, because the first thing people will ask is why should I bring my business here and why should I bring my family here.”
Community Futures Southwest staff do not only provide funding for beautification programs in communities, but also get actively involved with project work.
“With Community Futures they not only get a cheque,” he said. “We take it out and present it, and we work on the project, and that surprises a lot of people and communities, but I think that shows the people in the southwest and in the communities that Community Futures is prepared to participate in what your project is.”
Parker enjoyed that part of his job to visit communities and to get his hands dirty. He recalled a beautification project in a community that wanted to clean the cemetery in preparation for people's return for the 100th anniversary of the village.
“We painted the fence on a windy day and the question was whether we got more paint on the fence than we did on ourselves,” he laughed. “It was interesting, because we had 13 people from the community come out and all were diligently working and that’s indicative of the small communities where they come together. When we see that and they want to take pride, it’s exciting for us to take part and go out and be part of doing that kind of economic development. It’s not just writing a cheque to them.”
Parker was born in Ottawa, but he left the city at the age of 20 to go to the Yukon. A banking career with Toronto-Dominion Bank took him to western Canada, where he worked mostly in communities in the Yukon and British Columbia.
“I've lived in every territory and every province west of New Brunswick,” he said. “So I've seen a lot of our country and when you see a lot of your country, you can bring appreciation of some things in each area to wherever you go. It comes with you.”
After 20 years with Toronto-Dominion Bank he briefly returned to Kanata, outside Ottawa, to become the national executive director of the Junior Chamber of Commerce (JCI) or Jaycees. He firmly believes in the values of this organization and he received his JCI senatorship years before while still working in Whitehorse in 1969.
He was inspired by the principles of the Jaycee creed, especially the reference to the achievement of economic justice through free enterprise and the principle of service to humanity is the best work of life. He feels there is a real need for a junior chamber of commerce in Swift Current.
“It's a training ground for young men and women who can believe that these are the kind of things that would inspire them,” he said.
Parker's career with Community Futures started in High River, Alberta. From 1990 to 1997 he worked in Nunavut at the Community Futures office in Rankin lnlet, and from 1997 to 2004 he was located in northwestern Ontario at the Community Futures office in Dryden. After living for almost 14 years in Swift Current he plans to remain in the city during his retirement with wife June.
“We like the beauty of the province, we like the people, we like the community,” he said. “We're comfortable here. I've established a friendship with the southwest.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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