Avid volunteer Alice Lam is all about community change making

CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 self-profiles to mark Asian Heritage Month. Here is the first, from Alice Lam.

She helped create Calgary Community Fridge, Good Neighbour Community Market and started

Alice Lam is a child of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees who moved to Canada in 1985. She works as a property manager but spends most of her free time volunteering for various causes close to her heart. (Esther Cho Photography/CBC)

May is Asian Heritage Month. To celebrate, CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 profiles throughout the month. We welcomed nominations of diverse individuals with different goals and interests, and a common commitment to giving back to the community. Through an internal voting process, CBC Calgary staff selected the Asian Changemakers for 2022 and asked them each to write a self-profile. Here is the first in the series, from Alice Lam:

I am a child of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees who called Canada their home in 1985. In my day job, I work in commercial real estate as a property manager. My passion is building a city that people feel a sense of belonging to, therefore I spend most of my free time volunteering for various causes close to my heart.

In 2020, I helped create the Calgary Community Fridge and in 2021, the Good Neighbour Community Market. I love seeing cool things happen in our city and that has always been the driving force behind why I started — a website to link you to volunteer events in our city. The more we are out in our communities, the more empathy we learn, and the more invested we are in making this place inclusive, sustainable and fun! 

I am an avid volunteer in Calgary's Chinatown. I sat on the Advisory Committee for the Tomorrow's Chinatown project for the City of Calgary, and also led historic Calgary tours for the general public. In my spare time, I host art projects for seniors in the neighbourhood and also work as an interpreter for Chinese seniors.

I was the kid who for a long time would be embarrassed by my culture, what we wore, what we ate.- Alice Lam

Since the opening of the Good Neighbour Market beside Chinatown, we have many daily interactions with Chinese seniors where they don't speak English but require help to navigate social services. Since I can communicate with them it has been a rewarding experience to be able to learn more about their lives in Canada and how we can make it better. I am obsessed with the Chinese-Canadian history of our Chinatown and I am a strong ambassador for the neighbourhood and the enormous value that a visible ethnic community has for our society. I love sharing the history of how Chinese pioneers built Calgary's Chinatown 100 years ago and the struggles and racism they overcame in order for us to enjoy this cultural gem many years later.

Although I was born in Canada, my parents were low-literacy immigrants so I struggled with learning English in school until Grade 3 or 4. Like any immigrant story, I was the kid who for a long time would be embarrassed by my culture, what we wore, what we ate. I despised the fact that English wasn't my first language. 

As I grew older I realized that being bilingual was such a gift and a way for me to actually help connect individuals from two different cultures. We were low income so I had the typical experience of going to work with my parents and I saw how hard they worked to provide for our family and to get them to a better place, yet at the same time still giving so much to their community. 

The Chinese-Vietnamese community is quite tight knit and really involved in helping newcomers. It was due to the immense support my parents received from the community during their settlement in Calgary that they continued to give back in order to pay it forward. Seeing my parents thrive and feel a sense of belonging among other immigrant families really made me appreciate the bond we had growing up. Instead of being isolated and on our own, we were able to rely on a group of people to help us get acclimated to Canadian culture. It's because of this that I am so invested in working with new immigrants and volunteering my time to create experiences that would help others feel a sense of belonging. Hoping they will pay it forward one day, too. 

Lam helped create the Calgary Community Fridge in 2020, the Good Neighbour Community Market in 2021, and also started to link people to volunteer events in Calgary. (Esther Cho Photography/CBC)

I love Calgary as a city and see so much potential in its ability to become a world-class destination that offers a great standard of living, great arts and culture, and a welcoming and inclusive space for diverse groups. I would love to see an increase in affordable housing stock, more inner city density, more investment in affordable sports programing, more entrepreneurial opportunities for diverse individuals, and more opportunities for youth and young people to experience a city where they can see that their contributions matter, that their community needs them, and that we value their input. I love activating vacant or underutilized spaces so hope to encourage and motivate others to do the same.   

For each pivotal change in my career or personal life, there was always a mentor along the way encouraging me, hearing me out, sharing their stories of triumph or hardship, and being honest with how society is and how we must continue to work to change it even when it's hard and frustrating. They gave me the motivation to keep going, to take risks, and most of all to connect me with like-minded individuals because as we all know, it takes a village to make societal change. I am so happy to be able to do the same now as I've become more experienced and older. I was lucky to have mentors that took a chance on me. 

If it is something that you can't seem to get out of your head like an earworm, then just go for it.- Alice Lam

I want to encourage people who are looking to make a change to not be scared. If it is something that you can't seem to get out of your head like an earworm, then just go for it. If you aren't confident, reach out to someone like me or someone who you trust will listen to you in order to share your idea. Get some feedback. The more you talk about something and the more passionate you are about it, the more people will be excited to help you. Life is full of surprises and you never know where you'll end up. You shouldn't be afraid of failure because, as clichéd as the sentiment is, failure is something that allows you to keep learning, growing, reflecting and becoming more resourceful. So don't be afraid. I have failed plenty of times and looking back, it really is just a speck in the big scheme of things. 

I thought I was going to law school but ended up in France doing my masters in business and working in New York before moving back to Calgary. I couldn't have planned that change in my wildest dreams. The opportunities presented themselves and I took the plunge!