Don Jaffray’s commitment to the City of Hamilton is ‘legend’ and although he’s recently retired, he never tires of making the city a better place for people of all ages. As much as any other person, Don has devoted his life to studying the city, learning about what makes it tick, identifying its issues, and looking for ways to make them better. It is this passion for the city and its citizens that had him lead – for forty years! – the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, an organization dedicated to using community involvement and engagement to help raise people’s standard of living.
Don remains an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. He’s also a valued member of the Today’s Family Board of Directors.
For Don, everything comes back to a sense of community. “As citizens, we all have a responsibility to engage in our community and contribute to its development as a place that reflects the values we see as important,” he says.
“We have to work together, as a community. We have to listen to people, we have to understand our condition, make sure that we are well-informed, and then we can ask ourselves ‘what can we do, and how do we do that together?’”
The issues that drive Don and that he is most passionate about relate to equality. He believes that when all members of a community have equal access to success, the entire city benefits. The concern is that, right now, there are equity barriers in Hamilton.
Don has an approach to breaking down those barriers. “We need to be more concerned about one another,” Don says. “I’ve always felt the need for a more equitable community. We need a community that not only cares for each other but finds a way to support each other.”
Child care is one solution that Don believes will create a more equitable community. “We have to grow the availability of child care services, so that they are more available to parents who need that child care support,” Don explains. But just making more spots won’t fully solve the problem. “We need to develop more models and we need to make child care more affordable.” That means, Don says, more public investment into child care.
The importance of child care in his vision of a more equitable Hamilton is what led Don to a seat on the Today’s Family Board of Directors. “One of the things I admire about Today’s Family is that they are paying attention to ‘what’s our condition,’ and what can we do to make it better?” he explains. “But there’s still more work to be done.”
“We have a broader responsibility to understand child care in the context of community,” Don says. “How can child care best be provided considering family constructs, economic and social conditions, and knowledge of healthy development factors?”
Don appreciates the core values of Today’s Family – collaboration, caring, innovation, and accountability – and believes that they are critically important to improving our communities. He also believes that we are making progress. “It can be disconcerting,” he admits, seeing backlash against equitable improvements, but he stands firm. “Look back twenty years: we’ve come a long way! We are winning the battle against poverty, particularly because of a growing concern for children and the need for their healthy development.”
“We’re making progress, just not every day.”
Even in the most challenging of circumstances, Don believes that there is always an opportunity to grow together. “One of the few good things about the pandemic is that it has highlighted the importance of child care,” he says. When suddenly there is a lack of a critical service, people notice and are more likely to call for greater support of it in the future. That public opinion might just be the catalyst for change; it might be the inspiration to make a greater investment in equitable child care in the future.
In the meantime, it is up to people like Don to improve the services Hamiltonians already have. As a member of the Today’s Family Board of Directors, Don actively advocates for positive changes which are grounded in the principles of equity, inclusiveness, and community empowerment.
“There is plenty for everybody,” Don says with a smile. “We just need to learn to share.”