When I was growing up, one of my neighbors was a middle-aged, single man who had experienced a tragic accident as a young person, and I don't know how it started, but one day he came over to drop off walnuts and request I bake him some banana bread. So I did, and it started a pattern of setting aside a loaf for him every time I made bread. But as I got older, I started baking less and I moved away from home, thus I stopped bringing bread to him. When I traveled home recently, he was out walking his dog and he waved at me, but didn't see me wave back. So when we met in the neighborhood later and I greeted him, he was surprised, thinking that I had intentionally him before. In that moment I made it a point to wish him happy thanksgiving, and I resolved to make him banana bread with walnuts that night.
I tell you this story, not to make a statement about my own 'good works' but to illustrate a point: natural processes of life disconnect us, unless we recognize it and intentionally choose to stay connected.
Because connection matters. Connection builds healthy communities (https://www.rwjf.org/en/cultureofhealth/taking-action/making-health-a-shared-value/sense-of-community.html). It also makes an impact on how people feel in their communities. It matters to me that I know people in the community where I live. I have people to ask for help and people who know that I am there for them. This creates an informal social net keeping people from facing life and crises alone.
Working with NeighborLink, I have started to see how simple it is to connect with people and how that connection brings hope. Some projects don't ever get done, but that doesn't mean we stop posting them. We don't exclude anyone, and although we cannot promise that their project will be completed, we are still willing to take their phone calls and listen to their stories. Even that small act of listening and posting a project gives people a sense of dignity and being connected. It is these little connections that make communities of resilience and strength. And it is in the absence of these little connections that communities break down and people start feeling ignored and disposable.
While the small connection of being heard makes a large impact on those in need, the impact from a completed project is exponentially larger. When neighbors come through and a need is met, it is a point of boundless gratitude. Being taken care of by a stranger is powerful and can even restore a sense of faith in the goodness of humanity. It doesn't have to be any grand gesture. Just showing up and helping someone out with a leaf raking or snow shoveling project can make someone feel connected to a community that cares for them. This is why I hope people take our Giving Tuesday pledge and choose to serve 12 times next year. Each time a project is done, people know that they are valued, heard, and cared for.
When a grant comes in, or a fundraiser meets its goal, it isn't really about the money. It's about the 'yes' we can now say to people in need when they ask for help. Please keep us in mind on Giving Tuesday, but more importantly, please look for those people on the margins of your life and try to reconnect. I also want to share one of my family's Thanksgiving traditions with you! Every year at Thanksgiving dinner, we take notecards and write what we are grateful for and share it with each other. This allows us to celebrate the blessings we have received individually and collectively over the past year. I hope you all give gratitude lists a try and had a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!