How do you create a community that cares? By caring
I have a theory that the entire valley runs on about 3,000 “movers and shakers.”
These are the people who are involved in the day-to-day management of our community. They might own their own business or work for one of the big employers. They sit on the many boards that manage our nonprofits and city or county government. They volunteer where needed, belong to any one of the many service clubs, and raise money for all the important causes. They read the paper to stay tuned in to current events and might even advertise in it to reach their target demographic. Many drive their children to their school of choice outside of the school boundaries in which they reside and volunteer in their kids’ classrooms. They attend one of the many galas throughout the year. They give of their money and/or their time to make western Colorado a better place. They span from the entire valley and their social circles consist of others from this group. They feel connected to the community. They feel part of the community. And they give back to the community.
Then there is everybody else in the valley. Around 125,000 other people who live here, work here and play here and for a variety of reasons are not more involved. Fifteen percent of that population live below the poverty line and simply don’t have the time, the money or the bandwidth to be involved. But the rest of this group isn’t about income levels and most are probably very involved in their own businesses and with their own families but choose not to participate in the community in a larger way for any number of reasons.
This was on my mind recently when I attended a meeting organized by the Mesa County Health Department discussing the concept of community connectedness. The idea was that if every member in our community was better connected to the resources and support needed to thrive, we’d be a healthier, more vibrant community. The discussion centered mainly around socioeconomic groups — better connecting our lower income families to the services and resources they need to empower them to succeed. But it’s not simply about the underserved. The Health Department is forming an action plan that will extend this idea of connectedness to every member of the community. If we create a community where people feel both socially connected and cared for, they will not only thrive, but will then extend that feeling of community to those around them.
It goes beyond the healthcare industry and basic human services, and includes each of us individually. This call to action, when complete, will eventually ask each of us what we can do to increase the feeling of connectedness between all members of our community and make each person feel they are a part of a larger community that cares.
How do we build the idea of community so that more of the people who live and work here also participate? How do we connect those who live below the poverty line to the resources that already exist to help them. How do we grow active, engaged citizens?
And this is not some bleeding heart government program. This is economic development. The repercussions of this action plan, if everybody buys into it, are huge because as the group of 3,000 already knows, if you feel part of a community, you participate in the community and eventually you give back to the community. And that’s when the magic happens because you can’t grow a community of 150,000 with the input of only 3,000. This action plan is about combining resources to tackle big projects, creating an environment where people can share and grow new business ideas, and also about making sure our underserved have the opportunity to thrive. It’s about reducing our suicide rate and tackling our mental health crisis but also increasing our physical health in order to reduce our healthcare costs. But mostly, it’s about creating a community that cares.