Today, we’re sharing an excerpt from a post by Peter Block of Abundant Community. He tells how one community keeps growing the list of things to be thankful for: each other. To read the original excerpt in its entirety, click here.
Seeing the Abundance in the Neighborhood
The [following] story has the elements of what we can call a competent neighborhood. Creating competence starts with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life. Here is a perfect example of how it works:
Last summer, when Theron looked through the open door of the metalworking shop Mr. Thompson had set up in his garage, the old man invited him in. Something clicked. Theron began to stop by every day, and he started bringing home metal pieces he’d learned to make.
Naomi could see Theron change. He was proud of what he made—Mr. Thompson even paid him to make a few things. Naomi said she’d finally stopped worrying about what Theron was doing after school. Jackie admitted that her son Alvin was in trouble, and she asked Naomi if there might be someone in the neighborhood whose skills would interest Alvin.
They knew that Gerald Lilly was into fishing, and that Sam Wheatley was a saxophonist, but that was about it. They decided to ask all the men in the neighborhood about their interests and skills. Mr. Thompson agreed to go with them. It took three weeks to visit all the men on the block. When they were done, they were amazed at what they had found: men who knew juggling, barbecuing, bookkeeping, hunting, haircutting, bowling, investigating crimes, writing poems, fixing cars, weightlifting, choral singing, teaching dogs tricks, mathematics, praying, and how to play trumpet, drums, and sax.
They found enough talent for all the kids in the neighborhood to tap into. Three of the men they met—Charles Wilt, Mark Sutter, and Sonny Reed—joined Naomi, Jackie, and Mr. Thompson in finding out what the kids on the block were interested in learning.
When they got together after interviewing the kids, Mark talked about a boy he met who knew about computers. Why not ask all the kids what they knew about? Then they could match adults to the kids, just as they planned to match up the kids with the grown-ups. When they were done, they found they had 22 things the young people knew that might interest some adults on the block.
The six neighbors named themselves the Matchmakers and, as they got more experience, they began to connect neighbors who shared the same interests.
The members of this community share this sentiment, “All the lines are broken; we’re all connected. We’re a real community now.”
[These stories are what] thicken the social fabric. It makes the community’s gifts more widely available in support of the family. If we do it, even in small way, we find that much of what we once purchased is at hand: carpentry, Internet knowledge, listening, driving a truck, math, auto repair, organizing ability, gardening, haircutting, wallpapering, making videos, babysitting, house painting, accounting, soccer coaching, artistic abilities, cooking, fitness knowledge, sitting with the old or the ill, health remedies, sewing. And some of those things will come from the elderly, the young, the isolated, and the unemployed.
These local connections can give the modern family what the extended family once provided: A place with a strong culture of kin, friends, and neighbors. Together we raise our children, manage health, support local enterprise, and care for those on the margin.
SOTRU gives a tip of the hat to neighbors who create a self-reliant community, and more importantly, become a family through caring and sharing. This is an essential element of true community. This is what makes a great Thanksgiving story. Do you have a special tone running through your community that rings out songs of thankfulness? We would love for you to share them with us. It would give SOTRU one more thing to be thankful for.
Peter Block co-authored the book “The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods.” He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops to build the skills outlined in his books. He is the author of Flawless Consulting, Stewardship, The Answer to How Is Yes, and Community. He is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Organization Development Network’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award.