Oct 14 2008

Building Ties: Heather Ion’s Ideas for Resilient Communities

Published by at 8:03 am under Uplift

David Brin and Harold KoenigHeather Wood IonMick PattinsonHarold KoenigMick Pattinson and Charles Smith"Mug" shot of Tom Munnecke

In the midst of our financial turmoil, I invited some folks over for a Saturday morning coffee to talk about potential positive responses to the various crises we faced. David Brin, Heather Wood Ion, Charles S. Smith, Mick Pattinson, and retired Admiral and Navy Surgeon General Harold M. Koenig, MD attended.

Heather is co-author of Against Terrible Odds: Lessons in Resilience from Our Children and a long-time researcher on how cultures respond to catastrophes.

Here are some of Harold’s remarks:

Current financial troubles are felt as severe strain far from Wall Street, among your own tense neighbors.  This Holiday Season, both consumer goods and the cash to buy them may be in short supply, adding stress to those used to giving and getting material things. But this can be an opportunity, in disguise – a chance to emphasize community and neighborhood connections that used to fortify earlier Americans, in hard times.  Activities that don’t require much money or new-bought goods, but fill our emotional  and practical needs.  In that spirit, here is a short list of ways that neighborhoods might rebuild that old village feeling, increasing local self-reliance while enjoying greater connection and meaning.

Here are some of Heather’s ideas for building resiliency: (with some contributions from David Brin and Harold Koenig)

  • Create a neighborhood bulletin board where folks can list reminders, and needs and offers (one retiree offers homemade cookies for lunches in exchange for dog walking; college students might swap auto-detailing for home cooked meals).
  • Host a potluck for local fun, but also gather information for a neighborhood directory.  Find someone willing to maintain a database.  Possibly include names with footnotes to indicate “trained babysitter”, “we know a good handyman”.
  • Build momentum toward a neighborhood round robin potluck once a month. Perhaps themed toward a positive question such as “What adventure have you had recently?” or “Tell us about a meal that meant a lot to you.”
  • Map the resources of skills and offers (science tutoring by a neighborhood retiree, revolving cooking classes, transportation pooling) and keep it circulating in the neighborhood using flyers, emails and bulletin boards. Amateur Photographers in one neighborhood might supply family sittings & portraits; in return they gain both recognition and remarkably creative portfolios and scrapbooks.
  • Hold a community talent show, including an art gallery, and share bragging rights and laughter.
  • Organize Barter Bazaars (no money allowed) where you can exchange your offerings for those of others (Especially useful before the Holidays.)
  • Put up a bookcase in a shared community space (Laundromat, Church hall, Doctor’s office) for a Bring One/Take One of books, magazines and videos.
  • Closet Shopping Sprees require that everyone bring five or more clean garments, and then take away the equivalent, or simply enjoy passing them on.
  • Polishing Parties are gatherings of a few neighbors or friends to clean a house or garage and then celebrate together.  One family had the exterior of their house painted by such a group, another completely redid their garden.
  • Share “No Money Fun” lists of activities (Dog walking, community picnics and cleanups, popcorn nights of watching home videos).  For instance “Story time” has become a weekly neighborhood celebration: adults and kids read and tell stories, sometimes with a puppet show or music, anyone can take part.
  • See that several people in the neighborhood take Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training so that a local team is ready in case of crisis. Ask them to teach others how to stockpile, do safety checks and prepare.
  • “What I know” gatherings are enjoyable ways to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge from your neighbors.  One retired safety specialist does a very popular “What I know” evening on safety procedures; a gardener does an equally popular presentation on pruning and pesticides; a nurse explains medications; a computer specialist answers questions, a medical billing professional explains insurance.
  • Community gardens get folks active together, improve diets, help support food banks, and generate a sense of self-reliance.
  • If there are security concerns, discuss whether a securely placed webcam might add just as much of a margin of safety as a ‘gate’.
  • If every family begins to list what truly nourishes their family and nurtures their sense of identity, of belonging, of hope and of contribution, we can then share our lists and weave together a web of support based on these things.

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