What Builds Hope in a Community?

What builds hope in a community?  Difficult question.

There are many things that, working together, build hope in a community over time. My recent book, Building Communities of Hope, shares dozens of stories and research about successful practices in community building.  This work takes time, because there are large trends and structural issues that impact community health and wellness. 

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) and the Rural Economic Analysis Project (REAP) are two excellent national organizations that study a wide range of economic trends. EIG’s Distressed Communities Index and State Dynamism Index are excellent resources, as are the REAP indexes. Both have great maps.

Why is economic development my first theme here? Because, as one healthcare leader in New Mexico, Lauren Reichelt is wont to say, “One of the best public health strategies is to create living wage jobs.”   One cornerstone for building community  health and hope is developing living wage jobs. That takes time and many hands focused on policy, economic development, job creation, and building other community assets important to job seekers. That includes education, housing, infrastructure, and other items that are included in some of the healthy community indexes, like the AARP Livability Index and the Social Vulnerability Index. That also takes time. Great leaders are able to involve people from many fields to work together on different strategies of their top goal areas. We can’t do everything at once. Prioritizing is a fraught exercise that, like working out, brings results.

Ever look up and realize that you’ve spent too many hours at the computer? With not enough exercise and time outside?

Yes, in the blink of an eye, many of us can realize that it has been too many days. Over the years, I’ve worked to track my days outside and times at the gym, to keep me focused. Like working out, community building requires sustained effort. That’s where those planning tools come in handy, as long as they’re simple ones and we don’t get all tied up in our shoelaces and trip ourselves up.

Communities that become healthy do this in many ways. What many of them share in common are a:

  1. Leader, or leaders, with passionate commitment to an idea, a cause, a goal, or a group.
  2. Case statements on the benefits: what’s needed, who it can help, why it’s needed, and how it will make a difference.
  3. Goals that ga:lvanize a community group to participate.
  4. Strategies and tasks assigned to different members/organizations. Plan the work, and work the plan!
  5. Leadership and support for relationship building within the group/s working on the goals.
  6. Multiple people involved in leading in different areas.
  7. Partnerships to leverage resources and engage more of the community.
  8. Communication with the community about what’s happening, who’s involved, and the difference the project will make.
  9. Engagement of the community, to provide feedback and get involved where needed.
  10. Celebration of small wins along the way!
The work also needs to be scalable. Much of the time, leaders need to address the systemic and structural issues with policy initiatives, which can take sustained work over the years. In the US, It’s wonderful to see what many dozens of community leaders can do, meeting with the County Manager or Mayor and the Council. It’s delightful to get hundreds (or thousands) of committed community leaders and members to contact their state legislators and go to to the state legislature during the session. Elected officials do respond to that! 

Then, there are the many small acts of kindness that can be encouraged. Over time, they change the energy in a community. That’s for another blog!