When Jennifer mentioned her goal of becoming a community connector in her review of The Abundant Community, we asked her to write a guest blog so others could share and learn from her experiences. Here is the latest installment in her ongoing account.
The first community meeting that I held to start a conversation about inclusive practices in our neighborhood schools was in March. Although a small number of people were in attendance, the conversation that night was important, and the conversations that followed were equally so. When asked what we accomplished, I was able to discuss the importance of coming together in this way, and the message was well received by many different stakeholders.
Going into the second meeting, I was hopeful, on one hand, and hesitant on the other. I was hopeful due to the fact that so many not only had heard about the first meeting, but there was a genuine interest in the ongoing meetings of people that I talked to. I was hesitant because this time of the year is difficult for people, due to schedules being so packed with other priorities.
My thoughts around having a meeting in May, despite the hesitation that I had, was that if I wasn’t consistent with holding the meetings regularly, then it would fall off people’s radars. I had momentum, and wanted to attempt to keep it going. Additionally, I imagined that people would be even more interested as the school year draws to a close, and plans for next year are being solidified for the children in our schools.
I invited people to attend the meeting in the same way that I did the first one, through my website, on Facebook, Twitter, individual school websites, and through emails. I informed the group that attended the last meeting, as well as the individuals that I had talked to during the interim between meetings. The response back was very positive, many new people expressed to me about how they wanted to come and be a part of the meetings. Many people that attended the first wanted to be informed of future meetings – but many could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. I got to the park building where the meeting was taking place, unfortunately to find even fewer people showed up than did the first meeting. This time, there were only five people in addition to myself.
Although this was a bit disheartening, as I had put a lot of energy into the materials I wanted to cover that night, we decided to make the best of the group that was there. In attendance were two people that had attended the first meeting, both parents of children a neighborhood school. One has a child that receives special education services, and one who has a child that does not, but has unique learning needs. Additionally, there were new people in attendance; another parent who has a child with identified learning needs that attends the same school; a lawyer who drove over an hour from a suburb of Minneapolis that had heard about the meeting; and Craig Neal, one of the co-authors of the Art of Convening book and creator of Heartland, an organization that focuses on community and social change through Thought Leader Gatherings and other important work they do.
We sat in a small circle, got acquainted with one another and our interests in coming together, and had a two hour-long conversation about many important topics. Like the first meeting, we talked about what currently exists in the neighborhood schools as far as differentiation and inclusive practices, as well as needs that exist within schools, as defined by the group. We talked about how to get more people involved and attend these meetings, and discussed the importance of coming together as a community around this purpose, as well as how to communicate that purpose out to others.
Through our discussion, our “invisible gifts” were revealed
Although this group was small in numbers, the benefits of coming together in this fashion were many. I realized early in the evening that this group represented exactly the overarching belief that John and Peter talk about when describing the “invisible gifts” that people have to offer in their community. Through our discussion, those gifts were revealed, and people connected with one another on various levels that they could not have done without the actual space and time of a meeting such as this to allow them to do so.
Not only were these people parents and grandparents of kids in our schools – but they were also a nurse, a pastry chef, a Thought Leader and Vision Holder, a lawyer, a film maker, a gardener, a novelist and blogger about writing, a non-profit organizer and developer, an accomplished cookbook author and food blogger, an artist, a photographer, and an educator. They are connected and experienced with the world in completely different ways. Each not only had a personal stake in their children, but those of others.
This small group was able to listen to each others’ stories, connect their experiences and gifts to each other through the conversation, and make plans for how to create a bigger community around this issue using the gifts we found within this group. We uncovered the gifts in each other that I have heard John describe: gifts of the head (things we know); the hand (things we can do); and the heart (things we are passionate about).
I am excited to tell more people about what we know now through this community, what we have learned, and how it is that we are going to move forward to learn and grow together in the future on behalf of our kids. I am hopeful that the next meeting will be equally as enriching. I can’t wait to spread the word!