A Connect Coalition is a prevention and health promotion strategy that increases community well being by creating a shared narrative in which every citizen experiences belonging.
This approach to community health and community building identifies human disconnection as the cause of mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical illness. The outcomes of suicide, substance abuse, academic failure, employment instability, and homelessness are among many symptoms of this cultural illness. A Connect Coalition is a trauma-informed, community-led prevention and health promotion strategy based on systems and social network theory, belongingness, and positive psychology.
Since individual and community health is rooted in the shared experience of belonging, the work of a Connect Coalition is to foster healing and restoration by making this experience common. To accomplish this, key community influencers are identified using a snowball sampling method. They are trained to employ storytelling processes in small, stable groups. These gatherings are often over shared meals and can vary in size from two to hundreds. In a safe, relational context, storytelling groups gain a shared understanding of their identity, purpose and needs (IVN) - the three components of belonging. These storytellers replicate their experience by sharing personal narratives in their social networks. The connecting of common story threads spreads a positive contagion of belonging and health.
As people begin experiencing the shared enjoyment of belonging, they agree on some sort of regular way of connecting. This is called a gathering rhythm. It can be a breakfast, lunch, or dinner gathering on a monthly or quarterly basis. It could be a community storytelling event or a series of intentional conversations and listening sessions. The only requirements are that space is made for relational connection and all voices are heard in a way that accurately represents the community.
To increase awareness and encourage participation, coalition members participate in Reunion Initiatives. These collaborative initiatives use different mediums (art, signage, displays, presentations, video, social media, events and activities, mailings, etc.) to promote individual and community interactions that lead to storytelling and belonging. It is within these efforts that the business community, faith, nonprofit, and health organizations, local government, art and media groups can leverage their roles in the community. Together, the community tells their story with both words and actions. This story reveals their collective identity, their power, and their intent for the future.
Natural leaders emerge through these narrative processes and work together to intentionally engage in listening communication with people and organizations in their social networks. This group of leaders takes responsibility for categorizing the diverse perspectives that emerge from the community. It is from these perspectives that both needs and resources are identified. This information is used to produce a dynamic shared vision and the strategies to accomplish it. The coalition members, as individuals, organizations, and institutions then participate together in those strategies to shape the identity and actions of the community to match their shared vision.* This ensures the healthy growth of the system in which every participating citizen’s identity is valued and their needs are met.**
As belonging increases in the community, those who are on the periphery become more noticeable to those who are experiencing belonging. The marginalization of any of the population leaves out valuable contribution. It is not a whole community if some are disconnected. So, as leadership and awareness grows, integration projects are developed to find practical ways to involved those who would otherwise be missed in the fabric of the community. These can be, need to be, practical - but they must be equitably relational as well. This is not the top of the hierarchy, saving the bottom. This is those in the organism of the human system noticing what they are lacking and reaching out to invite those whose involvement will complete the health of the system.
*A non-profit acts as a neutral backbone organization to facilitate these collaborative efforts.
**Progress is measured using Sense of Community data collected from participating individuals and organizations.
I write in a geeky, sciency, hopefully poetic way about belonging, storytelling, community building, deconstruction and construction,