We’ve spent the last couple of weeks with our homeschool enrichment program talking about wellness on a personal level and what that means for your mind, body, and spirit. After exploring the connections between individual mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional wellness, we want to expand our focus to include community wellness. Because, we’re stronger together, as Helen Keller phrased it: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”.
A community is “a unified body of individuals” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Communities naturally exist in different levels and sizes. It could be your household, neighborhood, classroom, workplace, or town.
What is community wellness?
The National Wellness Institute defines community wellness as “an active process through which people became aware of and make choices toward, a successful existence” Community wellness requires action to unlock the full potential of the individual and the community.
Why is it important?
Community wellness is necessary, just as individual wellness is.
An individual and a community are in a reciprocal relationship because the wellness of one interplays with the wellness of the other. If a community isn’t taken care of, there might be high-crime rates, litter all over the streets, and a lack of community events. On the other side, we can’t promote wellness in our community if we don’t prioritize wellness in our personal lives. Think about it, if someone isn’t taking care of themselves and their needs aren’t met, then they may be distracted and unmotivated to show up for those in their community.
How can we promote wellness in our community?
We can easily become complacent when we forget that our choices matter and we’re part of a bigger picture. But when we remember this bigger picture, we become powerful parts of the ecosystem in which we exist. Community wellness requires action. Actions create chain reactions. Chain reactions that start with individual change can lead to systemic and societal change. For example, advocating for a cause that’s important to you can spread awareness and lead to policy reform. To learn more about how to advocate for your community check out this pdf by Oxfam, a global organization that fights to end poverty and injustice. It's like the domino effect, when you inspire change its likely others will follow suit and inspire change too.
What motivates you to take action?
Ask yourself these questions:
What am I passionate about?
Do my passions relate to my community?
Can my passions be used to solve a problem?
What can I do to learn more?
What is stopping me from taking action?
Am I waiting for permission to make a change?
If you feel called to take action, think about these qualities that promote community wellness: connection and inclusion, service, and equity.
1. Connection and inclusion
To understand the importance of connection in a society we can look at it through a sociological lens. Sociology is a social science that seeks to understand and describe society and human behaviors. There are many sociological perspectives, but let’s focus on the structural functionalist perspective. This perspective is a macro way of thinking that recognizes relationships, social norms, and institutions as interconnected parts of a society. This means our connections with each other and institutions (educational, familial, political, economic, and religious groups) serve to influence the drive for social change we experience in our communities.
Our connections impact the way our communities' function. A lack of authentic human connections can create social stress and negatively affect community wellness. This stress affects individual wellness as well. An article from Stanford University states that strong connections increase longevity and even boost immune systems while weak connections make individuals vulnerable to a variety of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out this article, it includes a plethora of information about the internal and external effects of social connection. This is especially important for the youth in a community as they are more likely to feel disconnected and unable to make meaningful contributions to a community. This starts at home. Dysfunction and broken connections in the home influence how a kid shows up in the world around them. At school, they might engage in isolating behaviors like withdrawing or acting out.
There are many ways we may feel isolated in today’s state of the world. Taking action to build and seek connections can be monumental for the well-being of individuals and groups. Community inclusion is something to prioritize that’ll help minimize isolation. Community inclusion looks like giving everyone the opportunity to exist and participate in their community while being valued for their uniqueness. In a classroom, if children feel excluded by their peers, they are less likely to focus and perform well on academic activities. These feelings of exclusion can feel like rejection, which has psychological impacts on children and adolescents as explained by Katherine Mulvey and colleagues in their scientific article on the causes and consequences of social exclusion. To combat this, celebrate diversity in your classroom by not only accepting differences, but by using a strength-based approach to honor everyone’s uniqueness and values they can bring. This doesn’t only apply to classrooms. You can use this technique and the others highlighted in this blog by Amy Curletto in your home and neighborhood too.
Selfless acts of service are a great way to build community wellness. Everyone involved benefits from acts of service and kindness. Including the person that does it. When you complete an act of service, it releases endorphins such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin that increase positive feelings and help regulate mood. For more information about the science behind kindness, check out this article. Acts of kindness are also being used as part of an increasingly popular type of therapy: mindfulness-based therapy. This therapy encourages people to incorporate acts of kindness and gratitude in their daily lives to help treat anxiety and depression. This is a beautiful example of the interplay between individual and community wellness.
Acts of service/kindness are one of the five main love languages, and showing love is an effective way to deepen and strengthen social relationships. These acts can be as simple as making dinner for your family or picking up trash in your neighborhood. On a bigger scale this could look like volunteering at a community event or helping a stranger in need. Check out this article for more ways to volunteer in your community. Volunteering can be a selfless way to contribute to your community by dedicating time, resources, and skills. But what motivates people to volunteer? Jeff Dunn and colleagues wanted to understand the motives of volunteers by doing a systematic review of 33 studies on volunteerism. They found that in 28 out of the 33 studies people were motivated by the desire to help others and the intrinsic need to socialize. As you can see, volunteering impacts individual and community wellness by the magnitude of interpersonal benefits and increased socialization that we know humans crave.
Often when people hear the word equity, they think about it as a financial term. Equity refers to the shares someone owns of a company, but it also refers to impartial and fair treatment. Therefore, according to the United Way of the National Capital Area, “social equity is impartiality, fairness, and justice for all in a social policy.”. If interested, check out their article for real life scenarios of what social equity looks like in formal policies. Equity recognizes that we’re all different, and acknowledges that we need different levels of support to achieve a desired outcome.
Communities are made up of different people and different groups with unique needs for their wellness. An emphasis on equality treats everyone the same, but equal treatment doesn’t always result in equal outcomes. For example, refer to the graphic above (it’s explained more in this video). Treating them equally doesn’t solve the problem, but allocating resources based on need does. Due to this, equity is essential to the wellness of a community and a lack of equity can increase polarization among groups. Let’s think about the community of a home for instance. Pretend you have two kids who love swimming. You want to treat them equal, so you give them both a pool noodle. However, the smaller child may need more than just a pool noodle to swim in the deep end with their sibling. This separates them and could lead to the younger child feeling upset and alone. With equity in mind, you give the older kid a pool noodle and the younger kid a noodle and floaties. This accounts for the differences between the two and gives them what they need so both can swim in the deep end. This is a specific example that may or may not apply to you. The point is, equity brings people together by allocating more support and resources where they’re needed.
At Kiva, we encourage and support our students' deepening connections through creativity, exploration, and play in order to grow our community wellness. We’ve found success by designating time for them to navigate social dynamics and creating a safe space to welcome vulnerability and comfortability with sharing from their hearts. There are many ways to facilitate wellness in your homes, schools, and more. Stay tuned for our next blog post as we’ll share specific spring activities that promote wellness for ourselves, each other, and the land.