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Growing up in Holyrood, Emily Ball was “one of the kids with the tags on my skates.” To the casual observer, skate tags might not mean anything, but to those in the know, these marked Emily as a community-league kid — a badge the University of Alberta community relations officer wears with pride. Emily and her four siblings were raised by a single parent who worked full-time. Money was a problem. “If we didn’t have our skating rink or our playground, we wouldn’t have had anything to do,” she says.

Years later, when Emily moved to a new community within the city, she realized that they didn’t have a league of their own yet. Residents were upset about the logistics of a rec centre that was then under construction, but didn’t have a way of organizing themselves. Enter the Oak Hills Community League, which Emily helped found in 2005.

Emily’s day job means she also does engagement from the other side of the table, keeping the 15 or so leagues that live next to the university’s four campuses up to speed on any developments the U of A might be planning. “Given the nature of our campuses, they’re surrounded by communities,” Emily says. “They’re our neighbours. It’s important to be neighbourly.”

As the technology around public engagement changes, so, too, do the opportunities for people to get involved. “You don’t have to go to an open house and stand up at a mic to be heard anymore,” Emily says. Factoring in online surveys, telephone polls and social media announcements might make the process more complicated. But Emily believes it’s worth it. Large-scale projects will affect generations to come, she says — and when a project is completed successfully, thousands of kids will gain access to the same tools that she herself once needed.

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