The WMCCAI Scholarship Program is open to all high-school seniors within the immediate Washington metro living within a community association (i.e. homeowners association, condominium association, or cooperative association).
The 2021 Scholarship Program was solely funded by WMCCAI members, along with our generous scholarship sponsors, DoodyCalls, TRC Engineering, Inc., WINTRUST Community Advantage Bank (Silver Sponsors), and Cardinal Management Group, Inc, Chadwick, Washington, Moriarty, Elmore & Bunn, P.C., and Exterior Medics (Bronze Sponsors). Thank you to all who donated this year!
Question: Describe the importance of community during times of crisis and how, in times of social distancing, you can strengthen your community.
Kevin Farrell of Arlington, VA is the 1st Place recipient of the 2021 scholarship award from WMCCAI and was awarded $2,015. He will be attending Dartmouth College this fall.
Some two thousand years ago, the Roman emperor Augustus banished the famous poet Ovid from Rome, sending him to the city of Tomis, over eight hundred miles away. Ovid survived for over ten years in this backwater town, but most familiar with him and his work would agree that he didn’t live. Above all else, this was because Augustus deprived the poet of one of his most essential needs – a community. Few if any of the native Scythians spoke Latin, and almost certainly none of them cared much about literature, which devastated the poet and set into a deep depression.
Like Ovid, almost everyone today has lost some or all of their sense of community, albeit out of a need to keep distance from other community members rather than exile. It’s no wonder, then, that rates of loneliness, anxiety, and depression are skyrocketing. Our local communities are and where we instinctively turn to in times of hardship. It’s now more than ever, with seemingly constant bad news, that we want to spend time not worrying about weighty national issues but instead chatting about life with our neighbors. Now more than ever we need block party cookouts to just talk about sports and weather, or autumn bonfires where we tell ghost stories. And sadly, it’s now more than ever when we need to comfort our neighbors who have lost loved ones.
It’s such activities, after all, which build communities, and the loss of them that leads to loss of communities. What we need to do is find ways to start seeing familiar faces again. Perhaps one upside of being at home is that we all have much more time previously spent traveling to work and activities, and many have picked up new hobbies or interests. Perhaps the best and most straightforward way to strengthen our communities is to share the fruits of these newfound hobbies and free time with our others in our communities.
Those who have picked up baking as of late can bring their neighbors treats while children bursting at the seams with energy could rake an elderly neighbor’s front yard. Some people have learned to make masks, and they can give some of the useful products of their handicraft to their fellow community members. Those who have taken up an instrument can give outdoor and distanced concerts in a park or yard to those in their neighborhood-the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, even small interactions like these can have real impact- one box of cookies can lead to two friends stopping to talk for a short while, and perhaps a few days later bringing over a small gift. These little exchanges strengthen communities and brighten the days of everyone involved.
Many if not most locales already have the infrastructure for this: my town has neighborhood civic associations, and other communities have similar organizations like condominium associations, co-ops, and tenant unions. These groups can use their websites or newsletters to spread the word about such neighbors-helping-neighbors programs and facilitate sign-ups. Additionally, dropping off handicrafts or front-porch guitar concerts can be very easily adapted to reduce risk of disease transmission-these are generally activities which can be done outside with masks and distancing. When these proper precautions are followed, the risks are minimal, but the benefits to both individuals and communities are considerable.
This past year has made me think back to Ovid and wonder what would have made his life happier during those ten years on the Black Sea, and what I keep coming back to is a community. I can’t help but think that if the poet had been able to communicate with his new neighbors and perhaps even become friends with some, his time there could have been much less lonely. And just in that same vein, by engaging with our communities through even small interactions, we can make it that much easier to get through these trying times.
Anna Westbrook of Arlington, VA is a 2nd Place recipient of the 2021 scholarship award from WMCCAI and was awarded $500. She will be attending Ithaca College or Allegheny College this fall.
Community is central to the human experience; as social beings, humans have relied on each other for commiseration, fellowship, and support for centuries. In times of crisis, communities are especially important. No matter the varying forms they may take – friends, family, work, church, and more-communities are support networks during difficult times. When tragedy strikes, we often see our own trauma reflected in the faces around us, in our community. It is comforting to know we are not alone. That is really what the importance of community during times of crisis boils down to: empathy and support.
Even though communities can’t physically be together in these times of social distancing, there are ways to adapt. My program is called Learn From a Neighbor! The objective of this event is to cultivate community by encouraging neighbors to pool their knowledge and teach each other important life skills while gaining a few friends in the process. Neighbors who feel that they have a skill worth sharing will host an information or demonstration session that is not to exceed 30 minutes. The format of the program will be very relaxed so as to not create unnecessary stress. To maximize participation and ensure that there are no financial barriers for neighbors, there will be no participation fee.
In order to limit the workload, three households should work together as the organizers of the program. The organizers’ job is to set up a Facebook Group and then disseminate news of the group throughout the neighborhood by passing out flyers with the Facebook Group information; the flyers can also be posted on a local bulletin board if the neighborhood has one. The organizers are not expected to pass out flyers to every household; they will rely, in part, on word of mouth to further spread news of the event. Flyers should be passed out two weeks before the beginning of the program.
Once news of the event has spread through the neighborhood, people will begin joining the Learn From a Neighbor! Facebook Group. Members of the group will be able to easily access the contact information of the organizers should they need to get in touch. The Facebook Group is also where the comprehensive event schedule will be located.
A neighbor who teaches a session will be referred to as a ‘host.’ The sessions will fall into one of the following categories: cooking & baking, yard maintenance, technology, home DIY, professional life, and party tricks. The content of the sessions is very flexible. For example, a 16-year-old could host a technology session that teaches older generations how to use Instagram. Or a hiring executive who lives down the street could host a professional life session that reviews job interview strategies. And if the retired woman across the street has a gorgeous flower bed, she could host a yard maintenance session that demonstrates her gardening techniques.
Hosts will have utmost control over the format of their sessions. As a member of the Facebook Group, hosts are able to create an event post that is visible to all other members. In this event post, hosts will detail whether the session will take place in-person or over Zoom, what time the session will occur, and what materials-if any- participants need to bring. Hosts will also sort their session into the appropriate category so that neighbors interested in a specific category will easily be able to look through them. Due to safety protocols, if the session takes place in-person, there will be a maximum of 10 participants, all of whom must be physically distanced and wearing masks. Both before and during the week of the program, neighbors will be able to sign up for sessions they’re interested in.
Not only will Learn From a Neighbor! teach community members valuable life skills, it will also create an organic opportunity for neighbors to meet each other and form lasting relationships. I can’t wait to see the way Learn From a Neighbor! is implemented into other communities.
Matthew Colbert of Germantown, MD is a 2nd Place recipient of the 2021 scholarship award from WMCCAI and was awarded $500. He will be attending Shenandoah University this fall.
During times of crisis, such as the current pandemic, community is especially important. People in a community come together to mobilize, pool resources, and provide support to each other. Community during a crisis helps to combat feelings of helplessness, isolation, fear, and anxiety. People within a community also provide each other with important information and insight. And community provides support and a safety net for those who are most vulnerable to the disaster, such as the elderly or marginalized groups.
Times of crisis are often the catalysts for creating a sense of community. People often go about their daily lives and are too busy to get to know their neighbors or spend time with them. People are oftentimes apathetic and uninterested in volunteering for community association boards or committees, or otherwise participating in their community association’s events. However, when disaster strikes, one of the first places people turn to is their neighbors and the leaders in their communities. During times of crisis the good in humanity usually shines through and we see neighbors stepping up to help one another and provide all the important benefits of being part of a community.
As I sat down to write this essay, I thought about the word community. It’s a word that we all use in our everyday vocabulary, but what does it really mean? The meaning of community is actually quite complex and there has been a great deal of research in the social sciences to define it. It could mean the neighborhood or block you live on, or the building or homeowner’s association you live in, but to me community is more than a group of people living in a geographic location. It’s a sense of togetherness among a group of people that care about each other and have relationships with each other. It’s a sense of belonging that encourages collaboration, sharing, support, safety, and hope.
In order to strengthen my community during this time of social distancing, I would try to create relationships among those in the community to build the sense of belonging that is necessary to encourage collaboration, sharing, support, and hope. I live in a homeowner’s association with just over 1,000 single-family homes. Therefore, the best way to create connections is through the internet and use of social media. I would ask my homeowners association to create a Facebook page or use another social networking site like Nextdoor to learn about people’s needs and interests to find ways to bring people together. And for those who do not have access to the internet, we could use door hang tags or flyers. The social networking site would connect people in the community, provide important information, and survey their needs and interests, and recruit volunteers. The hang tags or flyers would serve the same purpose. People would answer the questions and/or sign-up to volunteer and leave the hang tags on their doors or the flyers in their mailboxes. Students like me who volunteer could get Student Service Learning (SSL) credits through their schools, which would provide an incentive for them to volunteer. Volunteers would collect the information and organize groups and activities based on the responses.
For example, people may need food, the elderly may need help with shopping and getting prescriptions, others may need help keeping their children occupied while they work from home, children may need help with schoolwork, and just about everyone needs social interaction and physical activity. People within the community could come together to participate in the various activities organized by the association and volunteers through Zoom or outside while social distanced. These activities could include reading books to children, fitness classes, block parties, outdoor movie nights, music concerts, outdoor classrooms with activities and tutoring for children, sidewalk chalk art contests, sip and paint activities, front door decorating contests, scavenger hunts, and community parades. In addition, volunteers could assist those who may need help with shopping or picking up prescriptions, or making vaccine appointments, or whatever people may need. During times of crisis people want to connect with each other and help each other, so strengthening a community means finding simple ways to make that happen.