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The Importance of Community

Written By: Gateway, , Community

Community is such an interesting word. We all have a definition or thought about what it means to us. Being a curious person, I chose to look up the actual definition so we can all be on the same page during this sort of one-sided conversation. Below is the dictionary definition:

Community: noun, a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.

Interesting, right?

Shawnee is a community of diversity rich in textures, where you can still find downtown streets paved in brick made for exploring and making memories with family and friends. We have a sense of #ShawneeStrong and quickly band together in moments of natural disasters and celebration. Many of us feel deeply connected, know at least a few of our neighbors and feel like we belong.

What if you didn’t?

According to a survey released by Cigna using the University of California-Los Angeles Loneliness Scale, researchers found that 46 percent of Americans report feeling lonely sometimes or always, and 47 percent report feeling left out sometimes or always. A little less – 43 percent – report feeling isolated from others, and the same number report feeling they lack companionship and their relationships lack meaning.

Pause a moment.

Nearly half of our communities are lonely and feel they don’t have somewhere to “plug in,” feel valued or utilize their gifts.

“Having a sense of belonging is a common experience,” Houston-based psychologist Karyn Hall wrote. “Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for a huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family and some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging, and their loneliness is physically painful for them.”

How do we address this disparaging data here in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and why does it matter?

In the recent Blue Zones Project Well-Being assessment, 55 percent of Shawnee residents understand their purpose, and 53 percent of the respondents reported that they liked what they do every day. So, we know that a little over half of our residents feel connected, and quite possibly the rest of the folks are not sure where they fit for whatever reason.  So now what?

Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes and is the wide definition of the social determinants of health, according to the Centers for Disease and Control. When people have access to food, housing, education, feel safe and have nurturing relationships, they are more inclined to make healthier choices.

While you may not directly be able to change access to housing or education, each one of us can utilize our gifts and talents within our community. This utilization has a direct impact on our feeling of fellowship, attitude and feeling of well-being. Using our gifts for the betterment of others has a direct effect on our sense of well-being.

We already possess the power to make our community a kind and inclusive place to live, learn, work and worship. Have you ever helped someone carry their groceries to the car, held the door for a stranger or shook hands at church with a stranger? How did you feel afterward? Maybe you walked away from the experience with a smile or a little pep in your step. Perhaps you felt a little happier. How much effort did that exchange take?

Knowing that people in our community are feeling lonely or disconnected, how can we lift someone today even in the smallest way? We can make eye contact with the mom that is struggling with a small and unhappy child at the grocery store and say, “You’re doing a good job, Mom, hang in there.”

Seeing another person as a person and just smiling can lift you both. Each of us can endeavor to recognize or acknowledge someone this week. Maybe go bigger with giving an hour or more of your time and volunteering with an organization that needs people with your gifts and talents. Yes, it can sound “Pollyanna-ish”, but in the paraphrased words of Gandhi, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

This is an exciting time to live in this community as there are an increasing number of ways to plug in. Here are a few to get started:

  • If you are interested in exploring your purpose or volunteer in the community, consider attending one of the Blue Zones Project’s free Purpose Workshops.
  • If you are looking to develop closer relationships with your neighbors, consider stopping by Community Renewal and becoming a block leader.
  • If you are passionate about recovery and would like to become a part of Gateway’s Wellness Team, contact Alicja Carter at acarter@gatewaytoprevention.org or message her through Gateway’s Facebook page.

Holly Gordon is the lead consultant for the TSET Healthy Living Program of Pottawatomie County. She has been with the organization since 2009 and holds a Master of Business Administration. In her role, she oversees environmental and social norm changes through policy adoption and implementation with countywide city governments, schools and businesses, creating organizations where the healthy choice is the first choice. Holly’s community involvement includes serving on the BikeOklahoma Board of Directors, American Cancer Society volunteer and a Raleigh Bicycles 2019 National Ambassador, encouraging active transportation and creating equity.

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