Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of anxiety about Election Day and the results. Many are hopeful that this month will bring an end to the polarized state of affairs in our country. Others are not so optimistic. Regardless of how you feel about the coming months, I think we can all agree that we cannot forget our local communities, which support us through thick and thin.
Individuals, neighborhoods, and even entire towns are encouraged to download a digital yard sign with a prompt message of support, encouragement, gratitude, or love, to edit and make it unique to their community. Our goal is to flood social media with positive messages and words of encouragement to those in our local communities.
The conversations in the next few weeks and months will be difficult and will require grace, there is no doubt about that. But while we have those conversations, we cannot forget about the first responders, nurses, ambulance drivers, and other professionals on the frontlines who are working around the clock to fight the pandemic. These are members of our community, they are our neighbors, friends, and maybe even family members.
Since March, my Davenport colleagues and I have participated in dozens of conversations with local government leaders, and the cornerstone of every discussion has been engagement with the community. People want to be heard and they want to be part of the bigger picture in their neighborhoods and towns. Local governments transitioned to an online model overnight when the pandemic hit and many are saying they are seeing increased engagement, in the form of volunteering and interacting with their community leaders, now as compared to prior to the pandemic.
Even more important than engaging with local governing bodies, people are going the extra mile to positively and humanely support one another in their communities. The Weaving Community Project has countless articles on its Twitter feed illuminating the kindness of neighbors. In effect, by showcasing “weavers,” the project is encouraging others to do the same. In Washington D.C., a gym class painted a mural for an elderly woman who could see the gym from her window at an assisted living facility. In Seattle, a teenager collected donations of masks and food to distribute to the homeless.
The Weaving Community project I mentioned above shares these stories to inspire acts of kindness and intentional community-building. A recent study at Harvard University on human flourishing found that “participants who volunteered at least two hours per week (compared with not at all) subsequently had higher levels of happiness, optimism, and purpose in life, and more contact with friends; they also had lower levels of depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and loneliness, fewer perceived physical discomforts and disabilities, and more physical activity.”
One reason for increased levels of happiness and optimism is the fact that “volunteering often involves sustained engagement with a community both of volunteers and of those served, and may thereby provide opportunities to build strong loving relationships. Love is not just seeking to do good to others; it is also seeking to come to know them and to be with them.” That sustained engagement “can provide a powerful sense of social connection, and a common purpose,” according to a similar study by the Human Flourishing Center.
Volunteering has proven to be the most popular form of engagement since March and we can only expect to see that level of engagement increase as we approach the holidays. It is important that we take time to not only volunteer but also to express gratitude towards our first responders, doctors, nurses, and volunteers who are going the extra mile.
Despite the uncertainties and limitations of our current moment, let’s all watch for ways to engage with others, show appreciation for those around us, and bring people together.
Pooja Bachani Di Giovanna is the assistant director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement & Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University