Anyone in a local neighborhood, cul-de-sac, condo association, or collection of townhomes may consider reaching out to neighbors to build ties and strengthen bonds.
1) Build a Community Garden—Starting a community organic garden not only provides a way to connect with others in your community, but it also helps build local resilience by encouraging more local, organic food production. The American Community Gardening Association has plenty of resources and locally based programs to help you get started.
Consider getting the kids involved by setting aside a special children’s corner of the garden that kids can explore and plant at their own pace. And Christopher Bradshaw, who works with the nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud in Washington, DC, to build a healthy, equitable food system in the city, advises making a point to bring in older folks as well:
“Respect the agricultural knowledge already present within communities,” he says. “Engage the elders; they’ll teach you more than a book ever could.”
2) Start an Ongoing Conversation—Book clubs, hobby groups such as jewelry-making, knitting, strategy gaming, language conversation groups, or other topical gatherings are a great way to connect with kindred spirits on a regular basis. Typically held in public spaces, or restaurants, cafes, or community centers, these drop-in events may be held monthly, bimonthly, or weekly, and don’t require too much in the way of start-up costs. Oftentimes materials will be made available, so all that is needed is your presence. If you decide to organize one, publicize it at the library, community center, school, or religious center, on social media, or on community-submitted billboards.
You can even start a conversation group to help you meet new people and get new perspectives on facing the challenges in your city or town.
The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Common Good teamed to up launch a curriculum for “Resilience Circles,” or community groups that come together regularly to work on increasing personal security during these economically challenging times. Resilience circles have three purposes: learning, mutual aid, and social action for the greater good. IPS and Common Good provide resources and can help you find or start a circle in your area.
Conversation Cafes are another type of community-building group. The intention of these open, hosted groups is to “transition from small talk to big talk,” and to have “conversations that matter.” What the topic is is up to each group, though the website has plenty of ideas to get you started.
You can also meet to discuss politics local political parties often convene informal discussions on local and national politics. Or, combine the Conversation Cafe idea with politics and meet with people whose views differ from your own, with the aim of finding areas of common ground and combating political polarization.
James Hoggan’s book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, has an abundance of advice on talking to people with different ideas and values, with civility and compassion.
3) Time Banks—Organized tools to exchange time are emerging as an excellent local way to share resources with others nearby. Research Time Banks and Hourworld for a timebank to join. This model is built on the sharing economy where time, or the “person-hour,” is used as currency. Members receive and provide gifts of time and talent with other members of the exchange. The banking software “tracks” your hours and allows you to access someone else on a need that you have: typical time-banking activities include house-painting, moving, home improvement, gardening, babysitting, elder care, computer advice, and other similar tasks. You can even volunteer to teach a skill, like carpentry and knitting, or a language.
4) Volunteering – Volunteering with a neighbor, hospital or clinic, community center, library, or nature center gives the volunteer a great sense of accomplishment, involvement, and fulfillment, and supports the community in many wonderful ways. Consider what you may offer as a volunteer: tutoring, mentoring, language practice, literacy, skills development, legal aid, food bank coordination, and translation are some of the many ways in which you reach out to your community and become an integral part of it.