What is your community’s body of work?

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Photo by Eugene Chan, in the Port Costa School

I have spent a lot of time this year speaking about your individual body of work — that unique bundle of actions, behaviors, choices, emotion, output and art you create throughout the course of your life that defines your legacy.

In this discussion and discovery, I have also been thinking about body of work on a bigger scale.

The other day on Facebook, my friend Deb Brown, who is the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Webster City, Iowa, posted on my page “What about a community body of work?” Deb knows a lot about that, since she spends her days bringing together business owners, farmers, artists, officials, academics and entrepreneurs for the good of Webster City. While her efforts directly affect the merchants, they also affect the broader community, which benefits from a better economy, fun events, lower unemployment and more retail options.

We are all part of a larger community, whether we choose to engage with it or not.

Often, we stay in our isolated groups. Families stay locked up in their houses, unaware of their neighbors. Business people stay locked away in their conference rooms, unaware of the artists or unemployed workers in their cities. Coaches stay locked away in their Facebook groups, unaware of the accountants or military veterans who need help in their midst. Brick and mortar businesses stay focused on their buildings, unaware of the wild Internet world, and all the ideas and connections available there.

What would happen if we determined that our body of work included our community’s body of work?

What if we measured our success at the end of the year not just by our own well-being, achievements and bank accounts, but also by the well-being, achievements and bank accounts of those around us?

What if we could take pride in knowing that we helped our local businesses increase earnings by 20%? Or that we used our connections to help bring a large employer to the area? Or that we got a favorite client in a national newspaper? Or that we helped raise awareness for a charity or cause that we may or may not be affected by? Or that we helped single moms figure out a way to get affordable child care so that they could get better jobs?

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Photo by Eugene Chan

On August 2, a group of us gathered in the Port Costa School to ponder these questions. We were part of a day-long workshop, Build a Movement, Change the World, that was a fundraiser for the Port Costa School, and an incubator for a wide range of people who were interested in making the world a better place.

During the day, we reflected on what we need to do to make our communities more healthy, creative, just, active and flourishing places.

The speakers Lewis Stewart (my Dad), Ridge Green, Greg Hartle, Desiree Adaway and Abe Cajudo gave tons of ideas and insight into how we can be strong, effective leaders and community builders. (I promise to share lessons in upcoming blog posts)

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Lewis Stewart, aka Pops. Photo by Eugene Chan

A big message that my Dad shared from his many decades as a community volunteer is that helping others in your community is not only important, but it is fun!

A dedicated group of volunteers in Port Costa has been working for 30 years to restore the Port Costa School so that it can be used for community events, art classes and training programs.

They didn’t receive funding or direction from an outside entity to do the work, they just saw the potential in the space and decided to do something about it.

Each of us has what it takes to be a leader in our community. And by leader, I mean someone who cares about something in addition to our personal gain and well-being.

My friend Scott Meyer, CEO of 9 Clouds in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just wrote a great post about the idea of Civic Headhunters — people who could actively recruit community members who have a lot to contribute to a region.

This is an idea that I would love to see take root in our communities.

But until formal structures appear, there is a lot you can do as an individual.

Here are some ideas for building your community’s body of work:

  • If you have a marketing or social media background, ask your favorite local businesses if they have a Facebook page. If they don’t, spend an hour or so creating one for them, then training them on ways they could use it to promote their business
  • If you have kids in school, ask their teachers what they need help with this year. Is it school supplies? Snacks? Professional development? Ideas for lesson plans? Educational activities or entertainment? Instead of complaining about what is not happening in your school (admittedly one of my biggest pet peeves), do something to make it better.
  • If you have influence, help dog owners get permission to open a dog park in your community. Even if you are not particularly fond of dogs.
  • If you have influence, help parents get new playground equipment for your neighborhood park. Even if you are not particularly fond of kids.
  • If you are a well-connected professional and know your neighbor’s recent college graduate son is out of work, volunteer to sit down and  help him map out a job search strategy.
  • If you know local artists, share their work on your social media channels, and invite your friends to attend their gallery openings
  • If you love to cook, prepare a meal for the stressed out bachelor next door who always arrives home at 9pm with a fast food bag.
  • If you are an artist with entrepreneurial friends, offer your artist space for a business gathering. Help them to create a unique and fun environment for colleagues or prospective clients.
  • If you know active elders that love to help kids, see if you can match them with students in need of tutors, like this awesome English tutoring initiative in Brazil.
  • If you are a business networking group, invite a different kind of speaker to your monthly event. Like a youth leader from the Boys and Girls Club, or a local farmer, or a stay at home mom.
  • If you have a co-working space or local library that hosts community events, volunteer to offer your expertise by speaking, mentoring, or reading books to children.
  • If you are sitting on a bus and a lonely elder strikes up conversation with you, take time to listen. Grieve the loss of their spouse. Revel in the cuteness of their grandchildren. Lament the fact that everyone is so busy on their phones these days that they don’t have time to talk with each other.

Each individual action may not raise the GDP or reduce the national debt. But it will send a gentle ripple through the heart of the person you are helping. Who will feel inspired to help others. And the ripple will get bigger, and the impact will grow.

And before you know it, you will start to feel the pulse of the body of work of your community.

And you will find that when you have a need — to get a job, build your business, heal from illness or build a fence — your community will be there for you.

What are ways your community is aware of and building a collective body of work? I want to hear your stories! Please share them below. Blog post links welcome!

 

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. I love love love this post, Pam! I have reached this phase of my professional life where I want to simplify and focus more on the people immediately around me.

    The internet world has become so abstract for me. Even though it helps me connect to people all over the world and has allowed me to create a successful career no matter what remote area I end up living in for awhile, I am longing for more in-person community connection.

    I’m in your Indispensible beta group, and I have to say that as I progress in it, I feel my body of work that I’ll be focusing on in the upcoming year won’t be directly related to my business. I have a feeling it will be a project I’m creating for urban young women here and the young women in remote Alaksan villages as well.

    Aho!

  2. There is goodness and value in our contributions and connection to community – and they are vital for ensuring its success and longevity. Love your definition of what it means to be a leader. Great ideas for how folks might be prompted to contribute and strengthen their communities.

  3. Wow, Pam. Some powerful suggestions that really resonate with me, thank you.

    I want to be courageous and build on what you’ve said hear to say that, those of us on-line, may find greater fulfilment making deeper personal connections at local, national and international levels. Sometimes, working ‘in the box’ means we’re extending globally and not so much locally. I know I would like to focus more locally.

    In fact, I’m going to do that right now and make a shout-out (would it be ironic to use Twitter?) and arrange a local meet-up: a creative workshop. I’ve been thinking about this recently. Reading this is the permission to do it.

    Although I have spoken at local schools on behalf of charities, I’m going to see if I can give more by offering workshops in other areas where I have experience.

    Nothing beats personal human one-to-one connection.

    Thanks for the inspiration, always.

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