Since July 2015, my friend and I have been strolling through Longmont, Colorado, neighborhoods with the specific intent of understanding to what level people believed and feel they belonged to our community. We are asking questions, creating dialogue and forming long-lasting relationships. To date, we've had over 500 conversations and made over 500 friends.
The concept is powerful. It has two dimensions. One is relational - I belong to this community and the other is one of ownership - this community belongs to me.
Recent events and other chronic social issues give us a sense of urgency around creating a communal culture in which people believe and feel like they belong to our community. We have no magic panacea or way of doing this. We are merely saying hello and engaging whatever conversation people want to have. What has been so personally satisfying is the level of kinship we have experienced with people. We are invited into homes, given food, introduced to family and other neighbors, told of their plight and their pain, offered personal life stories and almost all reveal their hopes. Tears and laughter are often a part of our conversations.
We started these walkabouts wanting to know if people believe they belong to our community; do they believe this is their community; do they feel welcomed and invited; do they feel safe; do they know their neighbors and do they know of opportunities to more fully interact with our community? We have yet to encounter one person unwilling to engage with us. People are exceptionally appreciative and often invite us back.
And our community is not unlike any other community. We have our social issues - people challenged with mental illness or addition or poverty or not having a permanent residence or coming home from prison. Many of these folks are marginalized and reside in the shadows of our community. They deserve to feel they belong in our community too! And while some folks who struggle to belong are more visible, isolation and disconnectedness is also a wider condition of modern life. This is as true in gated communities as anywhere else.
What We've Achieved
- We have had over 1,5000 conversations and made over 2,500 friends.
- We have visited over 65 neighborhoods and three of our local nursing homes.
- We believe residents understand that leadership is more about intention, convening, relatedness and perhaps presenting choices.
- We have begun to experience a certain alchemy associated with this sense of belonging that people so urgently want to feel.
- We firmly believe that we do not need to keep waiting for great leaders or institutional guidance. They are here among us. Leaders are all of us!
- We started these walkabouts wanting to know if people believe they belong to our community; do they believe this is their community; do they feel welcomed and invited; do they feel safe; do they know their neighbors and do they know of opportunities to more fully interact with out community? We have engaged with all of those we have encountered except for one person. People are exceptionally appreciative and often invite us back.
- These walks have been a spiritual experience for us. We have learned and been gifted with so much.