Since its foundation in 1982, the Working Centre has supported grass-roots, cooperative, self-directed, skill-based learning as an integral aspect of its service to the Kitchener-Waterloo community. From the start, the Working Centre has been a school where people gain competencies: in word-processing, resumé writing, job hunting, programming, computer repair, sewing, cooking, gardening, papermaking, retailing, construction, renovation, bicycle repair, and other crafts.
In the way it has pursued its educational mission, the Working Centre has also fostered distinct and invaluable social skills: how to teach, learn, and live in a respectful, reciprocal, democratic way. Hierarchical, top-down models of schoolwork, as of work in general, are avoided here in favour of more egalitarian models. Quality, productivity, job satisfaction, friendship and joy are achieved through mutual aid. Teachers and learners take turns talking and listening, showing one another how to do new things.
In keeping with the educational facet of its objectives, the Working Centre has been collaborating for two decades with area schools, colleges, and universities. For many years starting in 1991, the Working Centre provided space and resources to the University of Waterloo for credit courses in community sociology. More than 500 UW undergraduates have done part of their coursework in the unpretentious, dialogic setting of the storefront on Queen Street.
A series of MSW students from Wilfrid Laurier University have done placements at the Working Centre. So have students from Conestoga College, Katimavik, and local high schools. Graduate students in social sciences at both UW and WLU, from recreation to planning to community psychology, have done participatory research here for theses and reports. Three years ago we launched the Community Engagement Option [hyperlink this] – the first of our programs offered in Partnership with Wilfred Laurier University. Last year we launched our Access To University program in partnership with Laurier and the Hallman Foundation supporting non-traditional students access and navigate University programs.
Since September of 2005, the Working Centre has been hosting the Diploma in Local Democracy. Since then we have hosted eight classes, have gone through three facilitators, and have changed and grown over time. The Diploma has slowly rooted itself in our community. We now have people asking about the course regularly throughout the year. The class fills up quickly.
Although its physical home is in Kitchener, the Working Centre has chosen the name Waterloo for its educational arm. This is out of respect for the name given in the early nineteenth century to our sister municipality as well as to our county, now a regional municipality. The name Waterloo was fresh in memory then, as the battlefield in Belgium where Napoleon met defeat. The name meant resistance to tyranny, determination to safeguard the pluralism, freedom, and human dignity for which the original Battle of Waterloo was fought.
This part of Ontario was not founded by imperial edict. Our community arose from the grassroots efforts of settlers finding their own way along the trail of the black walnut trees. The defining character of Waterloo Region is as a place of decentralized power, a place where ordinary people make history, free of despotism of any kind.
The Waterloo School of Community Development is rooted in these local, democratic traditions. It aims to maintain and deepen those traditions in the large, urban, diverse, high-tech setting the Region has become.