This #WeBelongWR story comes to us from KW Habilitation, and shows the way that shared interests can be the spark to create meaningful relationships.
Rob has developed a unique and lasting friendship with Bryce. Although it has always been known that Bryce is a thrill seeker, Rob has never indicated that he was interested in going on rides. Rob has always mentioned going to Wonderland every time he saw the commercial on TV but has always declined to go when offered the opportunity.
Support staff mentioned that Bryce goes every year to Wonderland and even gets a season’s pass. Although the two men have both attended ADS for many years, they had never developed a friendship. Once Rob found out that he could go to Wonderland with Bryce, Rob was more than thrilled at the idea of going.
And so the friendship began.
Now, a few times throughout the summer, the two men get together and enjoy a day at Wonderland. The staff at Connelly were not only surprised but thrilled to see how excited Rob was to go as he has never been on any rides before.
Rob has now gone to Wonderland for the last two summers with Bryce. Staff who have gone along to support Rob have mentioned that he loves to be up high, go on all the rides and particularly loves the rollercoasters. Who knew, as even Rob’s mother was surprised to hear this as she said he never would go on the rides when he was a child.
Rob now looks forward to his summers and hanging out with Bryce as they share the same interest in Wonderland. Rob mentions “I go with Bryce” now every time the commercial for Canada’s Wonderland comes on the TV.
This #WeBelongWR post by Rogers Radio host Mike Farwell explores his experience ‘walking a mile in someone’s shoes’ and finding a place of welcome on the other side.
We’ve seen them before. We pass them most every day.
Sometimes we feel moved enough to give them money, even though we know our spare change is virtually insignificant in getting to the root of the problem.
Yet they remain a part of our community.
They are the marginalized. The impoverished. The homeless.
On my best days, I like to think of us as all being a part of the same community. After all, we do share the same streets, the same weather, the same buildings.
But the reality is that we’re often two solitudes, the marginalized in their community and the rest of us — those who by chance or by circumstance have jobs and clean clothes and a little extra in our bank accounts — in ours.
I was fortunate enough once to get a first-hand experience at life on the other side.
I’d been invited by a local group of anti-poverty advocates to participate in a week long challenge.
The challenge was to live for one week like someone collecting social assistance from the province of Ontario. When collecting social assistance, we were told, there was only $20 per week left in the typical budget for food.
That’s right, after looking after all the other necessary bills for shelter and survival, a mere $20 was all that was typically left over for food.
I took my $20 to the grocery store and shopped as frugally as I could. Some milk, a box of cereal, a little fruit, some pasta, and some ground beef.
I kept a little bit back — about $2.50 — in case of “emergency” during the week.
I walked to work every day (since I couldn’t afford the bus) and I skipped my daily coffee — even the $0.50 cups at work.
I tried my best to be as true as I could to the $20 challenge and a fascinating thing happened.
Not only did I learn about the importance of my usual three meals a day but I learned at how missing out on that food really changes your demeanour.
I was hungry all the time by the second day of the challenge. I was irritable. I started staring at the ground on my way to work in hopes of finding some change that I could use to buy a coffee or some extra food. And by the seventh day, I had no food left.
Not a scrap.
At that point, I could have “cheated” and called off the whole thing. The drive-thru was right there and my debit card could have easily bought me a meal.
I could have gone to the grocery store and bought whatever I needed to eat and drink.
Instead I decided to stay true to the challenge and in order to satisfy my hunger on that seventh day of the challenge, I did what I thought others in my position would do.
I sought out a free community meal.
I found one served by Ray of Hope at the Salvation Army in downtown Kitchener. But I was very nervous as I entered those doors on that Sunday afternoon.
How would I be received?
There I was in my near-new winter jacket. My jeans were clean and I’d showered at home that morning. I didn’t fit the stereotype of the kind of person you’d expect to see at a free community meal.
What would everyone say?
I could smell the roast beef as soon as I stepped through the doors. I picked up a plate and got in line and nobody gave me a second glance. Nobody asked why I was there or if I belonged. They just asked what I’d like as I walked down the serving line and had my plate filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables.
There was gravy and more salad than I could shake a stick at. There was fresh fruit.
I filled my plate with what was easily the best meal I’d had all week.
I plucked the shiniest apple I could find from the bushel at the end of the serving line.
And then I looked around for a place to sit. The awkwardness was all on my part. I sat at a table with three other men and a woman and, again, was not looked upon as an outcast. Nobody asked me why I was there or told me I wasn’t welcome.
We talked a little and ate a lot and then smiled broadly when a volunteer came by offering ice cream. This was a special treat and even though the temperature outside on this late fall day was in the single digits, we happily indulged in the extra dessert.
I’ve never been in a place where I felt less like I belonged, only to be accepted without even a hint of prejudice.
The next time we’re walking by someone in “that” marginalized community and thinking they don’t belong in “this” community, maybe we can remember how welcome we are in theirs.
This #WeBelongWR post comes from the Extend-A-Family blog and is written by Kim Sproul. It looks at the ways a local baseball club is building inclusion into their programs.
“When I hear the words “inclusive [insert group]” I typically expect a group designed specifically for individuals with some sort of disability. Separate. Apart from peers who don’t have a disability.
How ironic is that?
However, recently I re-connected with someone from a past job and she shared an opportunity that brings the ‘inclusion’ back into the word inclusive. But lo and behold, it isn’t just inclusive of people with a disability. This league is inclusive of those youth who have not had experience with baseball previously, and now at, say age 10, find themselves with no place among their peers who have been playing since they were 5! I think about the softball Olympian, Lauren, who didn’t even start to play the sport until she was 11 year old! She and her peers played everything and anything, picking up sports on a casual basis. She may be a natural athlete and that may not be my particular experience, however I am envious that there was a space left for an 11 year old girl to try out a new sport. I don’t think that is necessarily always the case.
I often think of three examples in sport that depict ways of organizing and planning for the different levels of proficiency. There is the swim lesson model: youngsters are presumed to start when they are small. Levels are attached to ages, in addition to skill level. What happens when you are a 40 year old non-swimmer with almost no experience? Private lessons. Of the swim classes I have seen, seeing an adult learning alongside a youngest has been no existent. Okay, another model. I call this the beginner/intermediate/advanced model: folks are grouped based on skill level. You begin in beginner and then proceed through the other levels. Ages will range. The term ‘beginner’ defines you as someone who has never played/participated before. A challenge arises when you are definitely not a beginner in experience, but you are a beginner in skill level. What do you call someone who has been playing basketball for years and “fits” in best in beginner? What if there is zero interest and/or ability to progress? Then there is a final model, that of karate: again, there is progression, but with clearly defined skills that are requisite to advance. Each level has a multitude of ages of people. Each level is an achievement in and of itself, thus there is a journey in each belt. There is an expectation that there will be time spent in each level and that mastery occurs in each level, and not just upon reaching the completion of “black belt”. In this model, it is more about the steps along the way than your relative progress towards some final destination.
We hold a very linear idea about sport – start when you are young, and progress at very ‘typical’ and appropriate rates. It is expected that your skill level will match a chronological age and that it all is very ‘natural’.
But what happens when you don’t start young?
My daughter, Clara, at almost 8, has never really picked up a bat before. Where do I take her, that she isn’t seen as a deficit to a team of players who have many years of experience under their belt? How does one recreate in a non-linear way? How does one learn among others who are far more proficient?
They envisioned what it means to play baseball and have plenty of fun doing it! Designed for youths aged 6-12, this league is a great place for the new player, as well as the more experienced player, who are interested in having fun and making friends. If a player uses some mobility device that would typically exclude them from their local “house league” team, this is a place for them to belong. In so many instances, we are missing out on people who are passionate about playing sport. It may have to look a little different, but is no less part of the experience of belonging to a team and learning a sport together.
I celebrate this shift in models – a shift that sees kids playing sport together regardless of age, ability, and experience. Sports can be for fun. If you don’t happen to catch, bat or run as well as others, that shouldn’t mean you should be excluded from the sport.
I commend these fine folks for reminding us that perhaps we can play sport for the love of it and surround ourselves with a diversity of other people who do, too.”
This story was written for the Ontario Independent Facilitation Network and Bridges to Belonging. It tells the story of a community of people coming together to support the dream of independent living for three sisters in Waterloo Region. Thanks to Bridges to Belonging for sharing this, and a huge thanks to Danielle, Emily, Connie, and their parents.
Danielle, Emily and Connie, three adult sisters living in a mid-size urban Ontario community, share their path of transition in creating a successful move to living independently together in an apartment in the same neighborhood as their parents. This is a journey about three siblings and their parents, which began two years ago and expanded to extended family and friends during the last 6 months prior to their May 2016 move. Independent Facilitation was paramount in this transition process.
Finding allies for your hopes and dreams for living independently in the community is not always easy when existing service structures do not align with the dream. Connie, Emily and Danielle believed that they could live together in the community, as did their parents. Having carefully considered a range of options, the girls and their parents decided on renting a three bedroom apartment in a new building in an ideal location within walking distance of their family home. Their mother, Lynn, recalls how the energy and anticipation grew among the sisters. Lynn explains, “For two years, for the holidays and birthdays, we were thinking about things for when they would move and started storing them. We watched this building being built and saw this apartment and felt it was perfect; five minutes from our home. We walked in and I could just see them here.”
When Connie’s independent facilitator met with the family, she talked with the sisters about what dreams they had for themselves and to their mother about the family vision. The facilitator recognized the family’s proactive initiative toward making this transition to independent living for the three sisters. She listened to each of the sisters and the parents, wanting to make sure that each of the sister’s voices were heard and the family vision was expressed. Since each of the sister’s had their own facilitator, it was important that they all worked together to make this dream a positive reality. The three facilitators worked collaboratively to maximize resources, and found that the sisters had some shared dreams, like attending cooking classes together. They also had individual dreams including, Connie’s interest in making new social connections, Danielle’s dream of having a puppy one day, and Emily’s hope of working by providing home cleaning services in the future.
How could facilitation assist with implementing the sisters’ dreams and the family vision? What were the concrete steps that they could take? The facilitators began with these questions and developed a strategy with the family of how to expand relationships among friends and extended family to assist with the transition and the dreams. The sisters and the parents were excited about the idea of holding a planning session with other people in their network. They began by creating an invitation list that ultimately provided a foundation of commitment from a strong community network of natural support from family and friends. Meeting for several hours, this planning process with 30 people created a PATH that outlined the dreams, action steps, and concrete ways that this network of caring people could participate in the transition process. This network of family and friends explored questions around how they could contribute to the girls’ dream of living independently together in the neighborhood.
Reflecting on the planning day, Lynn the mother, said: “The generosity just overwhelmed me. People were all so excited to be there at the planning session. The girls felt great about it.” As one of the facilitators notes, “Everyone was here at this planning session because they care for this family and they wanted to participate.” Once the discussion got going, there was a deeper understanding of what the girls needed and how everyone could contribute. Lynn reflects, “Once the space was created and people were engaged, they created a calendar and people signed up in whatever way they were able to contribute, whether it be rides for Emily returning from work in Elmira, hanging pictures in the apartment, having Connie for tea and cookies, having housewarming showers; a pantry shower hosted by the church, and another by our sister-in-law hosting family, friends, and neighbours.” Lori, one of the facilitators added, “There were concerns about the three living together. We want Connie to be safe, so we explored what can we do to keep Connie safe and what can we put in place?’” Lynn shares, “I have done up a list of phone numbers for the girls of those in the network and circle of support.”
These supportive and trusting relationships of family and friends continue and have strengthened a sense of community and feeling of safety and support. One of the facilitators emphasizes that, “Tools and principles in the power of bringing people together was exemplary, and created such a positive and proactive energy.” The planning session and the calendar helped everyone in the extended network to know what is happening, what the family needs, and how support circle members can help.
Lynn reflects on the move to the apartment, noting that the path planning session created confidence among supporters because it brought the community together, and enabled deeper relationships to develop. Everyone feels that without the path planning session it would have been much more work. As Lynn says, the planning day turned into joy and building of community.” Lynn adds. “I was getting so tired and I know even over the move in May, it was physically draining… but there were all these people offering to hang the pictures…they (our community network of family and friends) took over. It was this huge weight lifted; that support to be able to stay put…and my sister-in-law is running the calendar for family and friends to use for planning.” For the family, the move and the network that were created were a gift!
During the transition process, the facilitators linked the girls with cooking classes in the community and assisted them with creating a chore schedule. Lynn adds about each of their facilitators, “The girls are free to write to them and talk to them. I have been so impressed with the facilitators. They are really wonderful people. They make the girls feel so comfortable.” In reflecting on their transition process, facilitator Lori says, “You could see all the pieces, it was a matter of shaping it and putting it together.”
Since the move, increased social connections for the sisters are being made with the circle of extended family and friends. Connie, Emily and Danielle are seeing new relationships being forged; Danielle and her sister’s interest in new neighbors and dog owners in their apartment building, Connie’s social group gatherings playing pool, seeing art and enjoy time spent together, and Emily’s weekly market garden outings in the community, and shared cooking classes. Lynn notes, “The girls are now able to invite family and friends into their new home to visit.” While Connie feels it is fun living in her new apartment, she reflects on missing the puppies at her family home and is glad to be living so close that she can return to feed them during the day and care for them when her parents are at work or out of town. Danielle’s reflection on the move reveals her anticipation of connecting with the local pet store nearby as she prepares over the next year for owning a puppy. Emily remarks, “I am loving it here. It is nice and close for walking or the bus. I like living on my own. I am learning to cook stuff and learning to keep the place. ”
Lynn adds, “That path planning was in January and the energy and connections have continued. We are going to Australia for three weeks and I feel so good about it.” With planning and facilitation, new and sustaining connections with community, friends, and family have been identified, built, and continue to be developed in support of the hopes and dreams of Connie, Emily, Danielle and their parents’ lives.
This #WeBelongWR post comes to us from the Extend-A-Family blog. It explores the meaning of belonging and reminds us that belonging isn’t something we receive or are invited to – we need to give as well. Thanks to Extend-a-Family for sharing this with us!
“Today the word belonging has stepped into the spotlight. A few years ago, inclusion was the buzzword of the day, and rightly so as it was, and continues to be, a driving force helping to push boundaries, create opportunities and strive for dignity. Today however,belonging seems to be the focus of much of the work we do. Words are beautiful. When you look into their deeper meanings and see how they can relate to real life, words are fascinating.
When we consider the definition of belonging, it talks of possession and of close or intimate relationships. Belonging is something that everyone needs in some way. Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone wants to be able to say “I’m yours” whether it’s to a parent, family member, friend or a spouse or partner. Possession, when related to belonging, isn’t a restrictive sentiment where we “have to” be connected to another person, but in fact is more aligned with the idea that we “get to” belong to another person, group or community. When looking at close or intimate relationships, I’m sure we can all remember a time when this was not present in our own lives. If you think of your first day of school, the first day at a new job, the first day of camp or playing on a sports team, one of the first thoughts we experience are, “who will I play with,” “who can I talk to,” or “will anyone want to be my friend?” The period of time when any of these questions are unknown is daunting. Imagine for some people, this period of time never ends and is their everyday life of not feeling they belong.
I’ve heard some statements describing belonging saying “Belonging is being invited to the party;” or “Belonging is being missed when you’re not there.” To both of those statements, I agree 100%. I would like to add a statement of my own. Belonging isn’t just being invited to the party; sometimes belonging is hosting the party at your place and welcoming people into your life. Belonging is both receiving and giving. You need to be invited to belong to others, and you need to invite others to belong to you.
Sometimes we talk a lot about words and focus a lot on these words from an academic, theoretical or intellectual perspective which is often an enriching exercise as we get to learn new ideas and challenge ourselves in seeing new perspectives. While doing this, we need to also see what real life looks like. From an analytical perspective, belonging is a wonderful sentiment; but what does it actually look like in real life? Taking it further, what does belonging look like for people who have a developmental disability? Here are some real life examples of belonging from people who live with this label as a part of who they are.
Belonging is hosting family and friends for a holiday meal at your home.
Belonging is going to a Rangers game with your boyfriend.
Belonging is going to the mall to meet up with friends on the weekend.
Belonging is playing your djembe in a number of different bands.
Belonging is being asked by your employer to work more shifts at your job.
Belonging is having people hear your idea for a community ball hockey tournament and being instrumental in pulling off a great event 2 years in a row.
Belonging is laughing with the toddler you live with and having them smile when you come home.
Belonging is completing a triathlon and having your family cheer you on.
Belonging is making someone smile.
Belonging is receiving gifts on your birthday.
Belonging is having someone to give a gift to on their birthday.
Belonging is being a friend not only because you need someone, but because someone needs you.
Belonging is having your phone ring because someone wants to hang out with you.
Belonging is a central need in everyone’s life. Who do you belong to? More importantly, are there people in your life who need to belong? If so, pick up the phone because you may never know the joy someone will feel when handed the phone and hearing the words “it’s for you.”
The following is a snippet from an interview that was published in the print and online September issues of The Community Edition. In it, Jesse Bauman interviews Luann Good Gingrich about her new book and her thoughts on inclusion, exclusion, and how we can grow through our differences. A huge thanks to Jesse and The Community Edition for allowing us to share this as a #WeBelongWR post. Click here to view the full article, and here to read more stories from The Community Edition.
JB: So that’s a good segue, to your last chapter, where you write that “to challenge social exclusion is not to change the other… but ourselves.” What does social inclusion look like? How do we get there?
LGG: We need to make more room for difference, and learn to honour and value different approaches to making a living, and to honour and value different world views. Our current ways of being in the world and with each other are contrived, and we can choose something different.
I recognize that these are “big ideas,” and the systems and structures I aim to investigate and ultimately change are complex and multi-faceted. My starting point is everyday, ordinary interactions and inter-personal relationships. This is, I think, how change in systems is made possible. I work hard in my teaching to help students recognize and then evaluate their own common sense. To recognize that we have a worldview that is not the only way to view the world requires being confronted with something different.
So, for example, I bring my students to listen to stories from an aboriginal knowledge-keeper and encourage them to connect with the alternative worldviews and value systems that they know. My hope is that they begin to know – to feel – that we are not alone, that each one brings something of value (and no one brings everything), that we need one another, and that we have both influence and responsibility to strive toward just relationships in the communities and institutions in which we engage.
Click here to read the full article from The Community Edition.
This #WeBelongWR post by Dr. Cindy Ward of Kitchener, dives into the research on belonging, showing us that belonging isn’t just a nice thing – our physical health depends on it. Thank you Dr. Ward for sharing this post from your blog!
People need to feel like they belong. It is a fundamental human need (1). When we don’t feel like we belong it triggers the pain regions of the brain – and “the hurt becomes physical,” says researcher Kipling Williams of Purdue University (2).
So, when we say that we have a broken heart – it’s true. Broken hearts manifest both emotionally and physically.
Williams’ research looks at the response to being left out: pain, coping, and — if the exclusion goes on for a long time — depression and a feeling of helplessness (3).
Even subtle behaviors, such as withholding eye contact or staring through someone as if they do not exist can induce feelings of ostracism (4). Most individuals experience ostracism at least once in their lives but some experience it daily (2).
There has been a revitalized interest in the importance of belonging for human social behaviour. With all of the research pouring in over the last few decades we’ve learned that belongingness is such a fundamental human need that it is right up there with having enough income to pay your bills, having your health, and having a sense of autonomy to make your own decisions (5).
Friends and family can provide a sense of belonging, however, an important, and often overlooked sense of belonging comes from one’s connection to larger social groups.
We often define ourselves in terms of our professions, our hobbies, and our involvement in a variety of other social groups. For example, I consider myself to be connected to many people involved in music and the arts around my community – a loose group, indeed; but If I ever had a falling out with these people, it would surely devastate me.
Canada’s General Social Survey on Social Identity based on 2013 data found that while most Canadians feel like they belong to Canada (about 65% on avg.), roughly only 34% feel connected to their local community.
That leaves a lot of room for improvement in helping people feel a sense of belonging within their immediate environment.
And indeed, special effort is likely needed for people with disabilities and mental health challenges, new Canadians, people living in poverty, Aboriginal people, the LGBTQ community, etc.
We all need to feel like we belong. And if we don’t, it hurts – literally.
Social values are important in Canada and many Canadian communities are working on improving their community and neighbourhood programs, however, the statistics tell an important story: there is still a long way to go in helping all citizens feel welcomed and included in our communities.
Dr. Cindy Ward is a native of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada and has a PhD in social and behavioural psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University. Cindy is a Sr. Associate at BEworks and studies human motivation. She really likes Self-Determination Theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as good theories for “why people do what they do.” She also dabbles in ‘death’ (ahem . . . I mean terror management theory). Most of all, though, Cindy likes to argue. So, if you disagree or have any comments, please email her at email@example.com.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.
Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290-292.
Williams, K. D. (2009). Ostracism: A temporal need‐threat model. Advances in experimental social psychology, 41, 275-314.
Wesselmann, E. D., Cardoso, F. D., Slater, S., and Williams, K. D. (2012). “To be looked at as though air”: civil attention matters. Sci. 23, 166–168
Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (Eds.). (2015). World happiness report 2015. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
This post by Kim Sproul from the Extend-A-Family blog looks at how our own assumptions can, intentionally or unintentionally, cause us to exclude others from taking part in community. By recognizing that everyone deserves the opportunity to contribute, to be invited to come together, we can change our assumptions and create vibrant, healthy communities that are welcoming to all.
This weekend I had the privilege of attending two community clean-ups, both coming on the heels of last week’s Earth Day. I say privilege quite intentionally. Being asked to contribute to the health and wellness of your community isn’t an invitation extended to all. I have come to learn this from some of my peers here at Extend-A-Family, who share openly that they do not often participate in these local opportunities, often because they don’t know about it.
While not claiming some insidious intention, the presence of some visual difference often results in some assumptions. I am guessing that one such assumption is that these individuals would not be able to (or want to?) volunteer or offer their support. This assumption can come from both the conscious level (deliberately not asking, fearing/expecting a certain response) or the unconscious level (never considering approaching a certain individual or group).
How often is there a house on the street that is bypassed by door knockers, a mailbox left empty of community flyer, a seniors center or local day program not visited to encourage participation? So often our assumptions about people, whatever the difference or similarity, means people are unnecessarily precluded from participating. Advertisements on a community corkboard reach those who feel and are understood to belong – a moment when they see the flyer and say to themselves, “this is for me”. If, however, there has never been that feeling of togetherness and belonging, such an advertisement is simply a piece of paper talking to other people.
What a loss! Both for the individual and for the community at large. On multiple levels! These opportunities to meet new people, share interests, build common bonds – these natural ‘coming-togethers’ can never be replicated! Nor forced. We rob one another of this beautiful gift, without much thought.
On another level, there is the health and vibrancy of a neighbourhood. When neighbours are encouraged to contribute in whatever ways they find meaningful, and the community relies on one another, there is a gorgeous building of reciprocity. I am seen as both a giver and receiver of support. I am seen and known in both my role as supporter and supported. One without the other will never result in authentic relationships with others. And I don’t know about you, but I yearn to live in the community where I am encouraged to come help clean the school yard, sell my wares in the street garage sale, attend a small gathering of neighbours sharing a meal, get together to problem solve the increased traffic on our street due to other road closures, and suggest a local teen who might be interested in babysitting for a new comer to the street. That’s the street I want to live on … that’s the world I want to live in.
This post by Kim Sproul from the Extend-A-Family blog asks the question “How do you know if you belong?” Kim looks at the path that she and Extend-A-Family have taken while striving to answer that question, and celebrates how far they have come today in the journey towards belonging for all. Thanks for sharing, Kim!
“Here at Extend-A-Family, we have been exploring belonging. We hold a curiosity about it and wonder, “How do you know if you belong?” If we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy and how it shows belonging as something to be addressed after safety and security but before self-esteem, we begin to appreciate that belonging is something quite integral to the human condition. If it’s so important, it seems to me like it should be something that we attend to. In fact, thinking about the work world I am so in love with, I begin to appreciate that no where on a list of needs is ‘inclusion’ or ‘be present within’. No, rather, there is an expectation that one belongs.
I titled this piece ‘The Road to Belonging’ because I am really interested in how we get ‘there’. If we expect, like all good road trips, there will be detours, bumps in the road, and a few flat tires, so we should expect the same of our journey to belonging. Here in our world at Extend-A-Family, this journey included stops at Integrationtown — getting people we support and journey with physically into their communities (be they neighbourhoods, schools, church groups, etc.). In this little leg of the journey, it was about helping the person change and adapt so they could join. Another stop was Inclusionville, where locals made the changes, to themselves and the physical landscape, to promote inclusion of all persons. We have in the past few years reached Belongingopolis, a vibrant hub, that searches for ways for people to not simply be ‘in’ but ‘of” the community. In this bustling landscape, reciprocity, hospitality and giving of gifts ensures that people develop relationships and places of welcome based on an acknowledgement that none of us are exempt from challenges. All of us are holders of unique gifts and talents. It is a time to celebrate.
I share this picture as one of the places where I feel totally welcome and have a deep sense of belonging. How do I know I belong? People greet me by name. They notice when I am not there. I have varying levels of contribution for the things we do together – sometimes I help plan, other times I help run, and other times I simply arrive and enjoy. And so too, all the other people who call this place theirs. Based on their interests and skills/gifts in any given instance, they help organize, plan, run, participate in, and encourage others. We rob the group of its complexity and depth when we don’t allow for people to shift in and out of different roles. Together, we are better.