I recently attended the Stoughton Community Networking Conference. I learned a lot about the wide range of needs and how many agencies exist to serve those needs.
I also learned we truly have an amazing group of people supporting these needs - skilled workers, dedicated volunteers, and generous donors.
Government funds that support these agencies target groups by age, income, disability, etc. and therefore there are many agencies serving these targeted groups. Not surprising, there are gaps between the target boundaries (people not being served) and confusion (people not knowing which agency can serve their needs).
Thus, this meeting to address networking and communication.
While listening to the discussions of all the needs and the fantastic help being provided, I wondered how much help is also being provided by families, friends, or neighbors.
Might these private connections be providing more support than public agencies and volunteer groups?
Think of times a friend or family has given you a lift to get somewhere, helped you do a task you could do alone, or provided comfort or a meal while you recovered from a surgery, illness, grieving a loss. Or the times you’ve seen someone in need and helped them. This is human nature.
During COVID isolation, these same families, friends or neighbors were bringing groceries to others who were elderly or had weakened immunity. We witnessed how valuable those “who you know” connections are.
However, there were many who didn’t have those connections and government support agencies became overwhelmed and struggled with added COVID restrictions. And, when people were isolating, they were less able to establish new personal connections.
The places that facilitate building connections - senior center, churches, schools - were closed.
In “Young at Heart”, May 2022 edition, Wisconsin Media Group included a discussion about “Stay Resilient, and stay healthy,” where Zorba Paster wrote, “I find that people are not looking at me and smiling like they used to.” His point, social connectedness is a major part of resilience to recover from this period of isolation.
If you’re still reading you must recognize the value of these individual support connections. Now for the important part...
How might our community facilitate these connections? Should Stoughton City declare a “Meet Your Neighbor Day”? Maybe host a “meet-and-greet” day in each ward?
In many ways, we shelter ourselves from seeing the many people in need. Public agencies can only talk in generalities, which sterilizes the information and removes any emotion.
What can I do?
Put down your cell phone, leave your air conditioned dwelling and talk to your neighbor. Is your neighbor a caregiver, ill or grieving? Offer something that might provide them respite.
Although you have a family network who help each other, you still could have a neighbor who knows no one to call in an emergency.
A scary and real example was given by a volunteer at the Networking Conference. A person called him on his personal phone because the person didn’t know anyone else to call. He called 911.
The lesson for us, this person didn’t know anyone else to call. Although we promote Stoughton as a friendly community, and it is, there are also many strangers within it.)
Extend a hand, be a friend and don’t forget to smile. It’s the right and kind thing to do.