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Ways to Build Community

By Melanie Anderson



I have been working in this “industry” nearing 27 years now; the industry of supporting people with disabilities.  While I am eternally grateful to have made a fulfilling career from assisting others, I am keenly aware that our industry has a way of perverting concepts and making labels.  One of these concepts that I think has been over-complicated and materialized is the concept of community.  I have been to countless workshops and read article after article on how to “do” community for the people we support.  While I acknowledge that facets of community connecting may require planning and patience for people with disabilities, I think a more simplistic approach to community may better facilitate its realization.

We Were Lonely

Many years ago I lived in three very different regions within an 18 month period with my family which at the time included a new husband and two kids in elementary school.  It was not until I had been living in the third, very rural region for a year that the concept of community hit me like a brick.  I was struggling.  I was lonely.  Something was definitely missing in our family.  We had a cute little house, pets, great jobs, and a good school but we were not very happy.  I was doing some research in my human services hoarding library for a work project and I came across a file from a fantastic workshop I attended several years earlier with Al Condeluci.  In this folder were handouts, my scribbled notes and a list of ways to build community.  I read over the ideas for building community and got teary-eyed.  We were lonely because we did not have community.

Al Condeluci’s research and teaching on the concept of Social Capital had created a foundation for my professional view on the importance of all people being connected to community.  He defined community as a network of people who regularly come together for some common cause or celebration.  This means that community is not necessarily geographic though that does define certain communities.  Community has three key features: people and diversity of membership, common cause or celebration, and culture.  One of the many benefits of community is that it promotes a sense of social capital for the people who are part of it.  Social Capital refers to the connections and relationships that develop around community and the value these relationships hold for the members. (Al Condeluci, Cultural Shifting).

Social Capital

When I found myself in this great little town yet lonely, I had no social capital.  I had not yet invested in meeting my neighbors or connecting with the teachers at my kids’ school or joined a club or church.    I remember hearing that “If you belong to no groups, but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying in the next year in half!” (Putnam, 2000).  I think this is particularly critical when you have small social networks or live in an isolated area.  The way I was feeling lonely, even though my basic needs were met, may be similar to what some of the people we support experience.  The services we provide should ensure that basic needs are met but are not necessarily effective at helping people build social capital.  Putnam’s work suggests that it is much more than services or institutions that keep people safe but it is more our circles of support and the reciprocity they create.

I started thinking about how to build my own social capital.  I did not use any program or hire a consultant.  I just thought about what I was interested in and the type of connection I might enjoy and then I looked for where that was happening.  This was an ongoing process but a few years later, I felt more connected and was enjoying the benefits of the reciprocity of relationships.  I hope for this outcome for the people we support as well.  And I think that if we just take a simple approach, we will be more successful.  During that training with Al Condeluci, a list of ways to build community was created and I have added to it over the years.  It is so simple yet the benefits so great.  How many of these have you done lately?  How many will you be inspired to try for yourself and with the people you support?

Ways to Build Communit

  • Turn off your TV
  • Leave your house
  • Know your neighbors and be respectful
  • Greet people
  • Organize a block party
  • Orchestrate random acts of kindness
  • Volunteer
  • Pick up litter
  • Share what you have
  • Frequent the same places
  • Go to new places too
  • Buy from local merchants
  • Help a lost dog
  • Support neighborhood schools
  • Fix it even if you didn’t break it
  • Barter for your goods
  • Start a tradition
  • Ask questions
  • Bake extra and share
  • Hire young people for odd jobs
  • Help carry something heavy
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Dance in public
  • Garden together
  • Share good experiences with others
  • Thank people
  • Talk to the mail carrier
  • Use your library
  • Go to community events
  • Build or contribute to a free library
  • Start a tool-sharing program
  • Welcome new people
  • Join the neighborhood watch
  • Start a book club
  • Address concerns directly with people, especially neighbors
  • Organize or join the neighborhood yard sale
  • Start a networking group
  • Share your gifts and talents
  • Introduce people
  • Kindness matters, hold the door for someone
  • Map out what is in your community
  • Smile; at people
  • Go when you are invited
  • Donate
  • Pick up the phone and call
  • Host a party


One response to “Ways to Build Community

  1. Ive always found when having a hard time if i take the focus off me and do a random act of kindness for someone else, I am lifted up. I feel good about myself . and I love knowing Ive made a difference in someone elses day if just for a little while. Spread Peace.

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