Connecting to your community

August 4, 2011

I spent the evening talking with friends about creating community and connecting with others. There is an assumption that living in a small town makes it easier to connect to others. I’m not sure if I agree with this assumption. I am beginning to believe that it doesn’t matter whether you live in the city or in a small town. Connecting with others depends entirely on your circumstances. And on your ability to reach out to others.

We are social beings. We want to be connected to others. Some people need only a few close connections. Others need a greater number of diverse connections. Still others are quite happy having a large number of connections that require only a small amount of interaction. The problem arises when we do not have the connections we need.

Research shows that our connections to other people are important for our health, wellbeing, and happiness. Those that are well connected in their communities live longer, survive disasters and crises easier, and deal with stress better than those that are not connected to others.

People with younger children tend to be able to connect with others easier than people with older children, or people with no children. The activities that parents are busy with tend to revolve around their children. School functions, parent council duties, and sports and other extra-curricular activities all help to connect parents with other like-minded individuals. As the children get older, the activities change. Yet, the parents are still able to connect with each other through their involvement with their children’s activities.

People who have the ability to volunteer with community organizations, on committees, with sports activities, and for community events tend to connect with others as well. These connections do not necessarily revolve around the children’s interests and activities. Instead, the connections made through these types of volunteer roles are with others who have the same concerns for specific issues.

Those people that live in the same town as their parents or other relatives tend to connect with others through their families. Their connections grow naturally out of marriages, births, and other new additions. In healthy families, these connections could prove to be the strongest ones to form. In unhealthy families, these could prove to be the most damaging ones.

What happens when our circumstances do not allow us the time to connect with others? If we have to move away from our families in order to find work? If we have to transfer to another location to fulfill our dreams, leaving behind friends? If we do not have children? If our jobs demand so much of our time that we cannot volunteer in our communities?

This is when those who take initiative fare better than those who don’t. If you love books, you can talk to the public library about hosting a book club. If talking to a stranger is too difficult, you could send an email to the librarian asking if there is a book club in town, and offering to help start one if there isn’t.

If you love to play a type of sport, you could talk to a gym teacher at a school and find out if there is a team for that sport. Maybe there is one night each week when the school gym could be opened for a drop-in evening for people to play. Or, you could offer to help coach a team of adults, teens, or children in a sport that you love.

If you love to play board games or cards, or listen to stories, you could visit the seniors’ lodge. There is usually an individual in charge of seniors’ activities in the lodge. You could make a phone call or send an email and offer to spend an afternoon or evening visiting and playing cards or board games. Maybe you could start a project that involves writing down the stories that seniors share.

Or maybe you just want to have coffee and chat. Perhaps there is a program in town that serves immigrants who want to improve their English. If so, you could talk to the coordinator about joining a “coffee circle.” This is an excellent way to meet other people and learn about other cultures by doing nothing more than showing up to have conversations.

By asking ourselves, “what do I love to do?” we can figure out what will help us to relax, take time for ourselves, and find a way to connect with others through our interests. This could involve something as simple as showing up to talk about books, Canada, our jobs, our families, sports, or any other topic with others who are also interested in that topic. Or, it could involve something that requires a bit more of your time, such as helping to create a group that comes together for a specific reason.

Public libraries, town offices, and the Internet are all ways to find others who have the same interests. And there is always a group in your community that needs your participation, even if all you have to offer is one or two hours each month.


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