Create Community: Volunteer

Certainly you have heard of random acts of kindness.  You’ve probably seen the Christmas-themed lists to “get you in the mood” for the season.  There is even a website focused on just this idea where educators teach it in the schools.  They have highlighted World Kindness Day (November 13), Random Acts of Kindness Friday (November 24), Random Acts of Kindness WEEK (February 11-17)!  Who knew?!?

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Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that.  Random.  Those little things can make a big impact on someone’s day, but maybe you loved the feeling you got when you surprised someone so much that you wanted to do more.  I’d like to compare it to your casual and sporadic toss of cash into an offering plate as opposed to your committed, designated and regular donation amount to your church or organization of choice.   There is something very encouraging to the receiver about a giver who is committed and consistent in their donation (whether it be resources, money or time).

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Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering is such a win-win for you and your community.  Not only do you personally benefit from serving in a cause that you are passionate about, but (even more importantly) you serve the people in your community.  That in turn, makes where YOU live even better!

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Local food bank: Food prep

In 2005, researchers from the National Conference on Citizenship counted the number of nonprofits in 3,100 counties all over the country.  A short three years later, the recession hit and they discovered something astonishing:  The towns with a higher concentration of nonprofits were less likely to become unemployed than those with less nonprofits.  “Just one extra nonprofit per one thousand people added up to a half percentage point few out-of-work residents.”

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Together We Rise: Helping Kids in Foster Care

I was amazed when Warnick started noting some of the jobs citizens volunteered to do: put on a police uniform to help patrol the streets (Pasadena, CA), man the front desk of city hall (Naperville, IL!!), direct lost passengers around an airport (Philadelphia, PA), write parking tickets (Deer Park, TX).  Not only did these volunteers help their towns by saving them money, but they probably had a much deeper respect for the people who do those jobs on a regular basis.  Think about it: my first job was a waitress at a breakfast restaurant.  Not only do I have a great appreciation for a great server, I’m pretty aware of when they are not doing a good job.  And yes, I do tip pretty well.

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Ready.gov: Plan ahead for disasters

Not only can volunteering give your mood a boost and extra dopamine, it gives you a stronger “place identity.”  While I might identify myself as a teacher or parent in my town, my volunteering creates an opportunity to join the collective “we.”  Our profession and families offer us a sense of good pride, while our service of others can offer an even deeper sense of community pride.  This creates a  greater place attachment to our town.

This quote from Warnick states it perfectly: “The cycle goes something like this: You volunteer, so your town becomes better, which makes it easier to love, which makes you more attached to your town.  As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.'”

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Local cleanup after storm

Now, it has been proven that those people who stay in a town are much more likely to invest through volunteering (as opposed to those who move a lot).  Cities can be highly transient places, and yet, they often have the greatest needs.  A military wife once said to me that she had moved so many times and this one particular move was only going to be a one year term.  She hated the location of her new home and had no desire to connect.  But, when she did connect with a couple people in that community, she made lasting friendships that she deeply needed at the time.  Sometimes our shortest stays can have the greatest impact (on us and the community we serve).

So where do you serve?

Do you love someone who has been affected by cancer?  Do you love gardening and want to support the public gardens?  Are you a huge music fan and would enjoy supporting the symphony?  Maybe consider a Giving Circle.  Find a group of people that would all like to pool money together (so you can offer a larger donation) and then collectively choose what organization to support.  You can choose a different organization each year.  Whatever you choose, think about your passions and let that lead the way.  Not only will you enjoy the work, it will serve others and in turn make your home a better place to live.

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ACTION STEPS

  1.  Start with whatever brings you great joy or breaks your heart.  Is it homelessness in your area?  Check out shelters or soup kitchens.  Kids without good role models?  Consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Children in the foster care system?  Contact local agencies to see where you can help.  Even if you aren’t a church goer, consider contacting one in your area.  They often have a great list of what the specific needs are in your area.
  2. VolunteerMatch.org as well as the United Way has a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
  3. If nothing is seeming to fit, look at your town’s website.  They might need some volunteers.  Added bonus, you not only have a greater appreciation for the people who work in your town, you also get to see where your tax dollars are going.
  4. RandomActsofKindness.org has tons of ideas for quick little volunteer options.  These can often be fun for getting little kids involved too.
  5. If you’d like your donation to have possibly a bigger impact, check out GivingCircles.org to see how to get started.

*All quotes and facts come from Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

Have you ever volunteered anywhere?  What kind of service has been deeply rewarding for you?

Create Community: Enjoy Nature

Welcome to Fall and welcome back to our Create Community series.  This week we are talking about Enjoying Nature where you live.  If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

Do Something Fun

Let’s be honest, it is so easy to love where you live if it looks like this:

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Or maybe this:

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I have had the opportunity to live a lot of places and with varying climates.  Climate seems to be a BIG deal for me.  Living most of my life in the Midwest, I am very accustomed to the four seasons.  I did, however, live 2 years in Honduras as well as 2 years in south Florida where there are really only about 2 seasons: HOT and a-little-bit-cooler-than-hot.  There are reasons we take vacations in places that have weather very different from where we live.  It is refreshing and new and feels so good to get out of our norm.

When I grew up in Indiana, everyone complained about the grey winters (and they are pretty grey).  Living in Chicago, everyone complained about the bitter cold winters (again, pretty bitter cold, but much sunnier than east of Lake Michigan).  Hondurans and Floridians complained about their rain and heat.  All of these things are true.  A good family friend once said, “If everyone would stop complaining about the cold in Michigan, get the right coat and hat, you would actually LOVE living here!  There is just SO MUCH to do here, all year long!”

His enthusiasm caught my attention and he is completely right: Even south Floridians would enjoy the cold of winter if they had the proper gear.  Skiing and snow boarding, tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, maybe even just hiking.  There is something almost sacred about the quiet that comes in the first blanketing snow of the winter season.  Conversely, Midwesterners could learn to appreciate the Florida summer heat once their blood thins a bit and then they have access to water almost everywhere.

Now keep in mind this is coming from someone who isn’t truly considered the outdoorsy type.  However, I grew up skiing and the exhilaration of standing at the top of a mountain is pretty incredible.  As an adult I’ve come to realize how the simple gift of fresh air can bring a new perspective on a particularly stressful or frustrating day.

“Studies have shown that spending time in green space improves immune function, lowers blood glucose levels in diabetics, boosts cognitive functioning and concentration, lengthens attention span and strengthens impulse control.  On the flip side, Dutch researchers have found that people who spend less time in nature have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, back pain, migraines, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and more symptoms of ADD/ADHD.  Pulse rates and blood pressure soar along with their stress and anxiety.  They’re more likely to be clinically depressed.”

Warnick in her book found that in addition, green space builds social cohesion, the companion to place attachment.  It is what helps create the environment needed to live in the neighborhoods we hope to live in: friendly, inviting, welcoming.  There seem to be a better sense of community among people who are surrounded by green spaces and nature.

Another component which I haven’t mentioned yet is our access to water.  I was fortunate enough to grow up very near Lake Michigan (Indiana, Michigan and now Chicago).  My apartment in downtown Chicago actually had a view of the lake (if I craned my neck and smashed my face against the window).  But, when I got outside it was just a short two blocks walk to feel and smell the lake.  Standing at this exact spot at Fullerton and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and I vividly remember thinking, “Is it possible to fall in love with a place?”

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What I really loved was the hustle and bustle of the city AND the proximity to Lake Michigan.  If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know my affection for Lake Michigan.  But I think I really realized how much I need to be near water when I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  It is the capital city in the center of the country, hours from the oceans that touch each side.  Not only that, it is a city in the valley between mountains, so much so that you have to get special certification to land an airplane in the Tegucigalpa airport.  After living there a while (my whole stay was two years), I realized how much I was missing water.  We did make it to the coasts in Honduras and other central American countries which brought much peace for me but I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have easy access.

Where you grow up often determines where you will settle.  Of people who grew up on the coast, 73% later settle in a coastal area; 63% who grew up among forests settled in a similar landscape.  The nostalgia of where we grew up seems to draw us again when we settle.  It might not be the same town but might have the same landscape.  Enjoying nature where we live can give us that familiar echo of home.

Try looking at your town in a new light.  What about the green space do you notice?  Are the local parks beautifully landscaped?  Do you have walking/biking trails?  How is nature highlighted where you live?  Be sure to take some photos and share them using #createmycommunity.

Action Steps

  1. If you have kids, make it a goal to visit all the parks in your town.  It is a fun way to explore hidden pockets you wouldn’t otherwise know about.  If you don’t have kids (or dogs), grab a book or your coffee and just go sit at a bench and enjoy being outside.  Leave your phone behind!
  2. Check to see if your town has a local nature center.  They can give you information about trees, plants and flowers that grow in your area as well as wildlife.  Ours has hands-on activities for kids,  a preschool, rooftop garden, outdoor amphitheater, walking trails and they even sell local honey!
  3. This should be obvious, but take care of where you live.  Pick up trash and be diligent about not leaving behind garbage when visiting a local park.  Every outdoor space is only as good as the people who take care of it.

Create Community: Do Something Fun

We return to our Create Community series this week with the topic of Doing Something FUN!!  If you missed our previous posts, check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

The concept of doing something fun seems so easy but when you are new to an area (or have been doing the same thing for a decade) in your town, it might feel a little harder.  And of course, the concept of fun is certainly subjective.  The writer Emily St. John Mendel noted, “Edmund Wilson once wrote that no two people ever read the same book and I’ve come to believe that no two people ever live in the same city.”

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Think about how cities have branded themselves (usually with the strategies of companies to highlight the best of what the town has to offer).  You know a few of them: Pure Michigan has become the alluring slogan for all the lakefront views all over Michigan.  And you know the one from Vegas: “What happens here stays here.”  If you live in one of these, you might not agree or even like these slogans, but they have certainly drawn people to both of these examples.

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Warnick discovered in her research that a town is what you think it is.  Even if it isn’t as glamorous as the bigger/better town next door, you can rebrand your town even if only in your own mind.  She found a study done in 2008 by Gallup and the nonprofit Knight foundation called “Soul of the Community.”  They talked to adults in 26 cities to determine how emotionally attached they were to their communities and why they felt that way.  Polling was done in cities of varying sizes from one million down to less than 20,000.

What their study found was very interesting.  It wasn’t the good schools, affordable housing and safety (what most realtors use to sell you a new home) that created the strong sense of place attachment.  The three qualities that created the strongest sense of place attachment and place satisfaction?  Social offerings, aesthetics and openness.  When citizens feel like there are lots of things to do, it is beautiful to look at and welcomes all kinds of people, they are deeply attached to it.  Secondly, the more attached they were to their cities, the better the city did economically.

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So, if you have things in your town you enjoy doing (maybe even on a regular basis), it creates a sense of attachment to where you live.  If you don’t love where you live, consider investigating some new things in your town that you haven’t experienced before.  Maybe use Google to help you identify what are your town’s strengths.  Not every town is good at everything, but your town is certainly good at something.  Make it your mission to find out what they are.

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Warnick admittedly is not a sports fan.  At all.  But someone suggested to her she attend the local university football game.  I loved her thoughts on this, “In all these ways–intense loyalty, the group identity, the sense of ownership–sports fandom is oddly reminiscent of place attachment…This experiment helped me see the very real link between rooting for your hometown sports team and rooting for your hometown…They do it because they love their city and the team’s victory is the city’s victory.”

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Lastly, if you are still struggling to find things to do, create your own.  Find a local park and find a new routine there.  Pack a lunch.  Read a book.  Enjoy a hike.  Try one new local restaurant this month.  Maybe even consider attending the local football game.  Ultimately, your place attachment has everything to do with the positive memories you have in your town.  So do something fun!

ACTION STEPS

  1. Try to make a list of 10 local sites, historic landmarks, tourist attractions, parks, museums, statues and events.  Use Google or even Facebook to help you find some in your area if you need help.
  2. Inquire about any local festivals as they offer a great sense of community pride.  When you are shopping local, ask the shop owners if they are aware of special events.  Often they have a better awareness of the goings-on in your area.
  3. Even if you are still struggling, do what you love where you live.  Runner?  Find a local half-marathon.  Home chef?  See if any of the local shops offer cooking classes.  Book worm?  See if the book store offers book club and author events.

Should you decide to try a few new things, please use #createmycommunity so we can see what new activities you are enjoying!

 

Create Community: Be a good neighbor

The concept of a neighborhood has come to have an almost romantic feel for me.  My husband and I grew up in neighborhoods that ran into each other and both of us had what I would consider an ideal situation: lots of kids, friendly people and a lot of opportunities for pleasant social interaction.  In my neighborhood alone, we had a welcoming committee, Christmas cookie exchanges, a Memorial Day parade where we decorated our bikes and followed a fire truck up to the neighborhood pool and then celebrated the holiday with a carnival in the parking lot.  Oh, and we walked to school with all the kids on our street.  It felt almost…like Leave it to Beaver.

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When we bought our first home, I had so many dreams of what I hoped for in a house.  We were expecting our first child and I couldn’t wait to see what friendships our kids were going to make just a few doors down.  But a few months later, I still had yet to meet a single neighbor.  Thankfully, one evening this very kind woman walking her baby in a stroller crossed the street and introduced herself to me.  I was so grateful for her taking the initiative.  Less than a week later her husband walked over with a baby gift for our new little one.

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Neighbors used to be the first people you would befriend.  In the 1950s, 44 percent of neighbors socialized at least once a week.  Think parties, picnics, poker games and potlucks.  By 1971, it had dwindled to 24 percent and that number continues to plummet.  The internet certainly continues to claim to connect us and yet we are more disconnected than ever.  As a result, most Americans barely know a few neighbors by name and 28 percent know no one at all.

Those of us with children or pets have a built-in conversation starter.  But, if you don’t have those or truly get hives from initiating conversation, you might have a hard time meeting your neighbors.  Can you imagine, though, the benefit of wonderful neighbors??  Now, that lovely woman who introduced herself to me ultimately became a wonderful friend.  Our kids enjoy playing together and I am so thankful for her introducing herself to me.  We have since met some others who are more than just kind.  They let us borrow weed trimmers and ladders and even offer to help us plant our new bushes.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together and consider them close friends.

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If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know I was captivated by the book The Turquoise Table.  (Read my review here.)  Kristen Schell was tired of not knowing her neighbors so she decided to DO something about it.  She set up a picnic table in her front yard and just started to do life out there: reading, homework, dinner, snack time, puzzles and book club.  People started to notice and she created an entire movement out of it.

Then I heard about Neighbor’s Table (clearly I have a thing with the table…) and it literally took my breath away.  Sarah was new to Dallas, didn’t know a soul and wasn’t exactly sure how to meet people.  She knew she loved entertaining so she set up a table in her backyard and set a goal to invite 500 people to her table in one year.  FIVE HUNDRED.  She invited people she knew and people she didn’t.  To date, her website states she has hosted over 2500 people.

Community is made up of people who know and care about each other.  When studying civic engagement, Warnick learned that choosing between adding 10 percent more cops on the streets or 10 percent more citizens knowing their neighbors’ first names, you should always choose the latter, it is better for crime prevention.  Think about it: you will call someone if their garage is open and you have a relationship with them.  When people care about those around them, we have a better shot at keeping crime down and place attachment high.

Do we live in a perfect neighborhood?  Definitely not.  But I’m hoping it’s a work in progress.  I am to blame too for just pulling in the garage and not engaging outside of my home.  We love our home, but more importantly, we love that we share it with the people around us.  Consider challenging yourself with a couple of actions steps below to get to know your neighbors better.

To catch up on the rest of my Create Community series, click here.

Action steps
  1. Be bold.  Wave to a neighbor you don’t know.  Say, “Can you please remind me of your name?” if they have told you before.  Make a note in your phone so you don’t forget.  Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new neighbors before the end of next month.  Even if you have lived in your home for over a decade (or more!), there is probably someone you still don’t know.
  2. Celebrate national Good Neighbor Day on September 28.   Bake cookies or banana bread or invite people over for coffee.  My husband and I try to celebrate with our neighbors every year on the anniversary of the day we moved in to our home.  Nothing fancy, usually just a cookout.  It gives us a chance to tell our neighbors how much we appreciate them.
  3. If you see someone moving in, introduce yourself.  It is so nice to have a friendly face and a name to help you feel grounded in new territory.  Bring them a few takeout menus (you know you have a million).  And lend them your ladder when they need to borrow it.
  4. Need to get to know more and want a bigger bang for your buck?  A potluck is a great way.  Divide up everyone by last name and ask people to bring a dish to share.  Our park district will even provide road blocks, a climbing wall and kids train if you are throwing a block party.  My sister moved to a new neighborhood last year and hosted a neighborhood-wide Easter Egg hunt.  She also hosted a back-to-school party and will probably throw an end-of-school bash.  Too much?  Maybe just have a cocoa and cookies night and do an open house.  Like football or sports?  Host a tailgate (outside so there is little cleanup!).  If you are willing to host, so many more people are willing to jump in and participate or even help.  Someone just has to take the first step.  Let it be you.
  5. Finally, BE a good neighbor.  If you get someone else’s mail, take it as an opportunity to go meet that person.  Maybe bring their trash cans up to their house for them while you do yours.  Offer to help rake leaves or shovel the snow off driveways.  No one says you have to be best friends with your neighbors but everyone likes living next to a good neighbor.

If you decide to take any of these action steps, be sure to use #createmycommunity so we can celebrate with you!  Or, please share your ideas in the comments!

Create Community: Buy Local

Continuing our Create Community series, this week we will look at Buying Local.  If you missed our previous posts in the series, check them out here.

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Campaigns for buying local are fairly familiar to me, and I could easily see how buying local would invest money back into the place where I live.  However, I had never considered that it would further connect me to where I lived.

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Think for a moment about the last time you moved (even if that was just into the dorm in college).  Where did you go to get your towels and laundry detergent?  Did you run to Target or Walmart?  There certainly is the benefit of the comfort level with these stores.  Since many are laid out in the same way, you know exactly where to find the shower curtains and brooms.  Not to mention, when you go this route, it would probably be cheaper than a locally owned store.

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BUT, did you know that for every job at a “bottom price” chain (like Target and Walmart), it eliminates 1.4 jobs locally potentially closing those locally owned stores.  What initially seems like a potential job boom for a town slowly degrades the community’s wages and therefore its overall business success.

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(For example, Warnick cited a study that showed big-box retailers returning 14% of its earnings back to the local economy while the rest was shipped back to the faraway corporate offices.  In contrast, independent businesses can circulate 52% of the revenue locally.  In simpler terms, if you spend $25 at a local boutique, $14 of it will stay where you live.  At a big chain, only $3.50.)

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Warnick stated, “Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities, and it’s easier to become attached to our city when we know exactly who and what it is.”  Just think about it: what is the allure of that quaint coffee shop in the little resort town?  You like it because it is different than Starbucks.  Why do you love the children’s boutique in the neighborly part of the city?  You love it because the gift you are buying your friend is special and unique and not something she’ll throw in her cart when she’s picking up a prescription.  What is it about the clothing store that you like better than Macy’s?  It brings you back because it is often better quality and the people who sell it to you care whether or not you buy something from them.

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Notice those words I mentioned: different, unique, quality, care, special.  You will pay a bit more for those things, but don’t you want those extras when you make purchases?  I don’t know many people who don’t like to get a great deal when they have the option.  There are reality shows about buying things for free with coupons!  But at what cost?  If we want to keep the quaint, quality stores around, we have to be willing to spend some money there.

Being honest, I am always hunting for the best deal.  I love a good sale and even still use online coupons.  But learning about this has challenged my thinking a bit.  So, I took an afternoon and went to buy a book.  In a bookstore that wasn’t a big chain.  I had to take a bit more time to learn the layout because it was new (and not familiar like another uniformed layout bookstore in town).  They didn’t even have both books I needed.  They found one, ordered the second and happily helped me look for my daughter’s lost shoe.  Though that last bit isn’t in their job description, I appreciated that they were willing to help out a complete stranger and new customer.

If where I buy can have an impact on how I feel about where I live, maybe I should consider my purchases a bit more.  Our culture is saturated with the idea of being efficient and pinching pennies.  However, I don’t want those decisions to ultimately hurt where I have chosen to raise my family.  So, family members, consider yourselves warned: you’ll probably all be getting books for Christmas.

Action Steps

  1.  Find one item you can buy locally and stick to it.  (Need some ideas?  How about books, kids birthday party gifts, housewarming gifts, baby/wedding gifts, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day?  Maybe find one or two stores in your area and try to do all your holiday shopping there.  Bonus: Sometimes they gift wrap for free!)
  2. Visit two local businesses and ask if they have any events (wine and cheese night at the boutique that sells home decor or birthday parties at the local toy shop).  Not only will you meet other locals, you’ll get to know the staff who could help you pick up your next gift.  When they know you better, they’ll help you buy a better gift.  Maybe even something for yourself.
  3. When you visit your next local business, look around and notice the difference between it and its chain counterpart.  If you’re feeling bold, tell the staff what you like or appreciate about their store.  Consider what you would miss if it wasn’t there anymore because it didn’t make enough money to stay.  Would you miss it?  If so, then you should be a patron there!Name three independent stores or restaurants in which you have fond memories.  What is it about these places that you love?  If you worked in or owned a locally owned business, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!

 

Create Community: Walk More

Welcome back, friends, to our Create Community series.  The last two weeks (here and here), we discussed the challenge of creating community for yourself when you become an adult.  When we were kids, our parents chose our community for us: the neighborhood we lived in, the school we went to, sports teams, fine arts events, play groups.  Secondly, we talked about place attachment, the term author Melody Warnick used in this book to describe people’s sense of connection to their community.

In Warnick’s research, she discovered that there were ten common actions that we could actually do to help us create a deeper sense of place attachment where we live.  Each week we will dive deeper into each of them.

1.  Walk more
2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10.  Stay loyal through hard times
Let’s dive right in!

Walk More

Do you ever just take a walk around your neighborhood?  Do you ever bike to run errands?  If you have a dog you need to take out, I’m certain you have a better sense of your neighborhood than most of its residents.  Warnick learned that you have a much better sense of place when you actually put on your shoes and walk around where you live.  This might even mean walk to the nearest shop, gas station or market.

When exploring a new town, most people try to learn the area in their car.  This certainly is the most time-efficient way, yet research shows that our mental maps are significantly more accurate when we walk or bike.  Years ago when I lived in downtown Chicago, I was always amazed by the people who seemed to be born on the city streets because they knew them so well.  I’m not completely directionally hopeless, but it seemed to come so much easier to them.  Thinking about it now, they biked to work.  Walking (or bussing) the four blocks to my job made me an expert at the few blocks surrounding home and work, but downtown?  I was pretty lost.

Of course, the more you walk over periods of time, the better your mental framework of your own local map.  Not only do you know street names and chain restaurants, you have memories attached.  “This park is where my toddler took her first steps!  That field is where I took my dog to play catch the first time!  That office is where we signed the papers to own our home!”  I loved this quote by Warnick: “Each jolt of memory becomes a geolocation marker that we press into our mental map of where we live.  Little by little, we pin ourselves into place.”

Warnick interviewed a Raleigh, North Carolina resident who was shocked at how few people walked in his area so he started “Walk Raleigh”.  His semester abroad in Copenhagen inspired a new way of thinking and he set out to bring this new way of life to Raleigh.  He created signs sharing all sorts of landmarks and how long it would take to walk there.  When asked if walking matters, he responded, “Absolutely.  I think that it helps people discover the character of where they live and why they like it.  Otherwise it’s a faceless kind of experience.  You don’t come in contact with anybody.  Even having the comfort of being social and being around other people is so healthy.  It’s fun to walk down the street and say hi to people.”

Action Steps
1.
  Sit down with a piece of paper and draw from memory your neighborhood.  Be as detailed as possible.  If you’re struggling, go for a slow walk with eyes wide open and try again.
2. Consider trying to run one of your errands by walking or biking.  Even better, permanently make this change a part of your routine.
3.  Does your town have a local walking tour?  (Mine doesn’t, it is a bit too small.  The neighboring suburb does, however.)  Consider trying it out and if not, check out some of the landmarks within the park district and see if you could create your own.
4.  If you are moving or planning to move, consider the Walk Score for your town.  WalkScore.com uses Google Maps to give a score for its walkability.  If you are walking distance to a bank, coffee shop, grocery store, you earn points.  The higher the score, the more likely you will be able to bike/walk to live in your community.  (Note: Parts of New York City and San Francisco are as high as 99 out of 100, where I live, a 33.)

Wow, if you have stuck with me to the end you are either my mom (hi, Mom) or dedicated to loving where you live!  Be sure to take pictures of some of your favorite things about where you live (on a walk of course!) and share with #createmycommunity.  I can’t wait to see what you share!

 

Create Community: Place Attachment

In my very first blog post, I told you all about a place that I consider my Comfort Table.  I explained a bit about why I chose this place over my childhood home, though it is somewhat amusing that I feel more rooted to this place than where I grew up.

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”               –Joan Didion

Certain memories are deeply embedded that solidify my Comfort Table as Michigan and not Indiana.  I have my opinions about why, but when I started to read this book, certain puzzle pieces came together.

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Author Melody Warnick was known for picking up and leaving any place that lost its allure after the typical honeymoon stage.  She moved several times post-college, always drawn to the ideal of a clean slate.  Years later when she had packed up her husband and kids for yet another job (or clean slate), she suddenly realized she wasn’t really going to be all that different in each place.

Even though they had just moved to a small college town in Virginia from Austin, Texas, she had somehow already written this new home off as “not her forever home.”  Why was she always doing this?  Was it possible to love where she lived now?  “What started as This is the place! would be edged out over time by geographic FOMO, or fear of missing out, a vague dread that someplace better existed in the world and I didn’t live there.”

So Warnick started to do some research (she is a journalist after all) as to why people love where they live.  She uncovered a term that she used often in her book called place attachment which suggests the “affectionate,  almost familial connection that can form between us and where we live.”  She discovered that place attachment is a combination of emotion and belief with action and behavior.  If that was the case, it was possible to learn how to love her town by things she could do.

Vice President of the Knight Foundation Carol Coletta says, “The hundreds of actions taken every day by thousands of people living in a city or a community help determine the future of that community.  When I walk out my door and there’s a piece of trash, do I pick it up?  Do I plant flowers?  Do I say hello to people?  Do I walk?  Do I sit on my porch?  It sounds so small, but those are the things that have a lot to do with the quality of life in a city, and once you can get people doing those things and realizing the impact that collectively they have, that’s where the magic is.”

Hearing that, I evaluated my own experience.  I didn’t really consider myself part of a community until I bought my home.  Though, until then, I had only lived two years in one location.  I’m not sure I had taken the time to consider how I was a part of a community.  When I lived in downtown Chicago, I considered it home.  But cities are full of transient people.  Even if you stay, so many others are moving on: to the suburbs, another city or somewhere else.

Now living in the Chicago suburbs, I do love where I live.  But I would like to put myself to the challenge to connect myself to my community even more.  Please join me in this series as we challenge ourselves to learn more about our own individual communities.  If you are looking to move or settle for the first time, consider some these qualities and action steps in your future community.  If you are already settled, challenge yourself to learn new things about your community.  Next week we’ll learn the first few challenges (out of 10) to loving where you live.

What do you love about your community?  Is your place attachment strong or weak to your area?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

Creating community for yourself

When you are a kid, community is your way of life.  You don’t know any different.   It is made up of your family and extended family, neighborhood kids, kids from school, athletic teams and maybe even church or religious organizations.  You don’t need to create community for yourself because your parents do it for you.

Between the ages of 18 and 30, I moved 14 times.  Sometimes within the same town, but when you’re moving all that stuff, (and my Dad will tell you, I have a lot of stuff,) it doesn’t really matter.  A move is a move.  Not only is a move exhausting, but so is everything else: finding a new doctor/dentist/optometrist, the nearest bank location/pharmacy/hardware store, a favorite sports bar/pizza joint/brunch place and heaven forbid if we can’t find Target.  {If I’m house hunting and can’t find a Target within 15 minutes, I’m not moving there.  Period.}

Image result for we have all known the long loneliness and we have found that the answer is community

All of those things are annoying in the beginning, but they don’t take too long to figure out.  The hardest part?  Community.  How do you find that?  How do you know where your kind of people are going to hang out?  Do you just start wandering up to strangers in the grocery store and ask if they have all 10 seasons of Friends too?  Tap the shoulder of the patron next to you at the new sushi place and ask if they want to be friends?  Hold up a sign at Target like a limo driver that says “friend needed”?  Ok, so these things are ridiculous.  But it is so much harder in real life to make these connections.

There are places that create community in themselves: work, church, your neighborhood.  But, if you are an introvert, those scenarios cause more anxiety than comfort when hoping to build a life with people.  You long for your friendships from childhood or college and can’t seem to get past the reminiscing stage.  The good ‘ole days.  And then, you might become a mom a realize how isolated you feel.

Well, truthfully, I am an extrovert and I got tired of it too.  My husband and I had just bought our (probably) forever home and I had yet to meet one neighbor three months in.  A new baby, a new home and a new life demanded a new community.

When I began to think about it, what I really longed for was easily found.  It would certainly take time to develop, but drawing it to myself wasn’t going to be too difficult.  I didn’t need anything new or to be different than I was.  I just needed to utilize three key things to help me find it: my home, my kitchen and me.

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“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs, a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to know that our own stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’ righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.” (Sally Clarkson in The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming)

Lucky as I was to travel all over and have friends and family in every corner of the country (and globe for that matter), I didn’t seem to live near them.  Yes, when I was single and still teaching, I did travel to visit them.  But now that I was committed to staying put, I needed to recreate that group of people in my neck of the woods.  I desperately wanted to feel like I belonged to this community and belong to the people who were in it.

When I came across this book, I was (and am) completely content living where we do.  We have lived here for over six years and for the first time since my childhood home, I feel rooted.  And yet, I still feel there is work to do.  So I’m using this book as a challenge to myself to deepen my sense of community in our area.

This will be the beginning of my Create Community Series.  Maybe you are a newlywed or transplant to a new town because of your job.  Maybe you have lived in the same town for years but still don’t know some of your neighbors.  Either way, the relationships that you have with the people you live among directly affect your happiness in that location.  Join me as we explore ways to create community right where you are.

Have you moved a lot or have you stayed in the same area for years?  What are your favorite things to tell people about your community?  Can you name a couple of things about your town that makes you proud?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!