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Thursday, February 19, 2015

How Can We Develop Strong Communities?

As I read the news and think of disenfranchised individuals and groups, I wonder how we can build stronger communities of care. At times it is these disenfranchised individuals who cause havoc and create harm. I wonder if the violence that begins with these individuals would have started if their communities were stronger, their sense of belonging greater, their belief in contribution/care deeper, and the opportunities for education more inclusive.

These thoughts also came to mind recently when a neighbor invited us to dinner during one of the many snowstorms. During the dinner conversation with the neighbors, there was a lot of exchange with regard to how neighbors are helping each other in multiple ways. The exchange led to shared knowledge and the collaboration as well as laughter and camaraderie.

Then this morning I read the Massachusetts Teachers' Union (MTA's) newsletter, and again I was reminded of the strength of a strong community and care for one another. Our union, in many ways, has taken on the needs of the underserved--underserved children, teachers, and communities.

As I think, I consider the following integral areas of building strong communities.

Communication
Inclusive communication is vital. So many of today's communication vehicles have lost integrity and have become more about advertising than news and communication. As a culture we need to identify and support the best vehicles of communication, communication that alerts the community of main events, issues, and possibility. We need communication that shares the good news too, not just sensationalized, rash stories of things gone wrong. And,our communication needs to be inclusive. People from all parts of a community should have an opportunity to voice their concern, needs, and interests.

Service to One Another
How do our organizations promote a sense of service to one another? Do we revisit that service regularly and put it high on the organization's agenda? Do people in the community know about that service? How is that service highlighted and celebrated? As I've mentioned numerous times, the principal in my school has made this a high priority which has resulted in a stronger, more caring teaching/learning community.

Understanding
In what ways do we build understanding in a community? I remember that years ago a local elementary school invited religious leaders from all local churches, mosques, and temples to come and speak to the children. It was a great way for children to learn about multiple religions and to gain greater understanding of their neighbors and friends. Also, local after school programs build this same understanding through programs where children work with elderly citizens in local retirement and care communities.

Celebration
How does your community celebrate? Are your main celebrations inclusive, healthy, and positive events. I've been reading a lot about the Cheyenne River Youth Organization's development of an Art Park and I've been moved by the organization's efforts to bring culture and voice to the community in inclusive, beautiful, and thought provoking ways.  Also, my teaching/learning community will soon celebrate the Lunar New Year, and everyone is invited.

Health
How does your community promote healthy living? In the community where I teach, one family, in particular, spearheaded an effort to build a new pool, and that pool serves so many in the community in multiple healthy and joyful ways. Similarly many are working to create a rail trail through town which will also serve to create positive, healthy recreation.

Education
How does the community come together to support education? Many towns have educational foundations that support this work. Others have volunteer programs and educational events. Community councils work together to make decisions and acquire appropriate funding for education too.

Police and Firefighters
Since I started teaching, I have notice that the role of police and firefighters have taken on the role of education more. They come to school to get to know children and share safety information in an effort to form relationships and build a safe community. They work with educational leaders to protect children in many ways.

Planning, Parks, Affordable Housing. . . .
So many other organizations' main efforts are to support and care for communities so that everyone has a place to live, the ability to get around safely, and opportunities for recreation and nature.

Our world is BIG, our connections are many, and the need to work together in peaceful, productive ways essential.

There is the temptation to be overwhelmed and feel powerless by all of this and to retreat to the safety of one's home, individual needs, and familiar routines and practice, but this will not develop our sense of community or the caring, strong communities that are possible.

Instead, in all of our organizations and groups, big and small, we have to look for ways that we can strengthen who we are and what we do. We each can play a role in this transformation and development. Our government officials can also play a role by serving their constituents in ways that look out for individuals by creating policy and laws that support strong communities.

We easily rely on routines and efforts known, and that's not always wise as the world is changing and it's time to rethink our patterns so that we can contribute, celebrate, and interact in new ways--ways that build stronger communities and a better world.