Grassroots leaders need to reach out to a wider group in the community beyond their physical constituencies, People's Association (PA) deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.
The PA has long been identified with community centres (CCs) and residents' committees (RCs) in Housing Board estates that organise activities to bring people together. But as the population becomes more diverse and people identify with a wide range of causes, Mr Chan wants grassroots leaders to work closer with bodies ranging from civic and volunteer groups to merchant associations, and students to strengthen community bonds.
He describes them as part of a "second wing" network, that is not part of the PA's traditional grassroots network but forms part of the social fabric. "Only when these two networks work hand in hand, will we have a strong social fabric," he said.
Mr Chan, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief, was speaking to 1,500 grassroots leaders and volunteers at the PA's grassroots seminar yesterday.
Some of them have already begun reaching out to this "second wing" and involving them in grassroots activities. In Tanjong Pagar and Tiong Bahru, grassroots leaders have reached out to restaurants in the areas to organise free meals for elderly residents living alone.
From the first meal in January at Mexican restaurant Lucha Loco in Duxton Hill, the programme has expanded to 20 eateries, which have served more than 500 seniors to date. Said Silat RC vice-chairman Sabura Bagum, 48: "Many senior citizens don't get to experience much of the outside world. They appreciate someone taking them out to try new things."
She said that the volunteers also take this chance to listen to the concerns of seniors and explain to them government policies they might not understand, such as MediShield Life or the Silver Support Scheme.
In his speech, Mr Chan also called on grassroots leaders to reach out to private estate residents through Neighbourhood Committees (NCs), the equivalent of RCs.
But unlike in public housing estates, where RCs are set up by the PA, private estate residents must organise themselves to form NCs. The number of NCs is expected to increase from around 150 in 2013 to 200 by the end of this year.
Mr Nicholas Sim, chairman of Bedok CC's Youth Executive Committee, said his team of grassroots volunteers is working with private childcare centres in Bedok to reach out to young parents.
During last year's dengue outbreak, Mr Sim, 30, and his team approached seven childcare centres to provide mosquito repellents and educational talks. "Some parents were sceptical at first," he said. "But we continued to reach out to them."