Sarah Jensen, 22, Castlegreen Housing Cooperative, Canada
A Place to Call Home.
Nearly fifty years ago, Castlegreen Housing Cooperative was established in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, on the traditional lands of Fort William First Nation, signatory to the Robinson Superior Treaty of 1850. People came together to build over 200 affordable housing units to create a diverse mixed-income neighbourhood to address the housing accessibility crisis in our city.
I was seven years old when my mother and I moved into Castlegreen. My single mother was newly re-entering the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom – and though I didn’t realize it at the time, Castlegreen provided us with a soft landing in a harsh world with both affordable housing and a supportive community. Castlegreen’s motto is right in its name: Caring And Sharing To Live Economically – values that I lived as an honorary seven-year-old volunteer beside my mom at every community event from Spring Tea to Canada Day to Christmas parties. This is my co-op story.
Situated on ten acres of land, our community takes the “green” in our name seriously. Our untouched boreal forest doubled as a playground and scientific laboratory for me and my friends, that gave me a passion for environmental protection. At 14, this inspired me to become the Community Garden Coordinator, helping educate other kids about food accessibility and sustainability, planting enough fruits and vegetables to help feed a few dozen families in our community, and building native pollinator habitat.
In 2016 I was elected as the youngest director in our cooperative’s history at the age of 18. The night of that election is one I will never forget – the support and connection to my community as I spoke with hundreds of my neighbours was so deep and everlasting and is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
A month after being elected to my Board, I boarded a plane – sponsored by Castlegreen – to attend the Ontario Cooperative Association’s Cooperative Young Leader’s camp. This was my first taste outside of my cooperative, where I felt a deep community. I returned in 2017 and 2018 as a facilitator at the camp, and in 2019 I was hired as the Youth Engagement Cooordinator. My work as a cooperative educator inspires me as I watch other young people glowing with a passion for the cooperative movement.
There’s no doubt that being raised in a cooperative shaped who I am today. I am pursuing a degree in Political Science/Pre-Law which will help me fight for human rights and continue my work more effectively with cooperatives. I am committed to my work with other cooperative organizations such as the Canada’s Emerging Co-operators, and the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada.
I am so grateful for the deep sense of belonging to community that comes from my experience in my housing co-operative – it guides everything I do, as I strive to build co-operative community and connection to others around the world.