70 Ways to Build Community, Save Your Sanity, and Change the World

70 Ways to Build Community, Oh My! Handmade

It’s become such a cliched phrase-something we say and recognize to be true but don’t often act on:

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

What does that even mean?

I am asked all the time – “How can I possibly do it all?”

The hard truth is you can’t.

You can’t be everything to everyone all the time. You can’t be the only one responsible for raising your children, running your business, managing your life. You CANNOT do it all alone. And you don’t have to. You shouldn’t even try!

The superwoman/man myth is so dangerous to our parenthood and our lives. It causes us to not ask for or allow ourselves to receive help and to deny when we feel vulnerable, needy, or afraid. It also puts up walls and barriers that keep us from reaching out to others and building a community that knows us for who we really are. We present what we want the world to see, the very best parts of who we think we are, but beneath it all:

We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common broken humanity. We all have wounded, broken hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help. 

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human 

Isn’t that is what is most beautiful about us? What unites us all no matter how diverse we might seem to be, is that we all need to belong, we all need support. Why deny that? Embrace it, that is where our humanity lives and where compassion comes from. Our brokenness is our biggest strength.

Jean Vanier is the leader of the L’Arche movement, a powerful community model that brings diverse people together to support people with disabilities in loving environments. His words are a call for all of us to live more compassionate and humane lives. He is also one of my personal heroes.

My mother was a young, visibly Black, single mama who had no family support while I was growing up. My nana was a brilliant artist but a truly awful mother, she was abusive, had serious baggage and offered my mother no support or encouragement. So it was little wonder that my mother felt called to help people who were suffering, to give them what she didn’t have. She worked in mental health and community development for people with disabilities and I often came to work with her. I have so many wonderful memories of visiting the group homes my mother worked in and spending time with people of every ability. This is such a huge part of who I am and how I see the world, but there was a price paid. My mother spent her days helping others and then came home to cater to my needs. No one was there to support her. She really did do it all alone and it took a toll on her physical and mental health. My childhood was beautiful but also incredibly hard, filled with loss and struggle.

When I moved out I was drawn to the same work with women, youth, and children. I have always wanted to offer people the support we never had when I was a child. No one should have to suffer alone or in fear. How I do that work has changed over the years but even here on OMHG it’s the same fundamental mission. To share love, be loved, spread love. Through handmade, yes. But mostly through connecting people with others and making them feel less alone and more empowered. This is the root of Jean Vanier’s philosophy:

“Fear closes us down; love opens us up.” 

If you are feeling like you just can’t do it all and you’re all alone-reach out! Open up. Creating community is the biggest investment you will ever make for yourself and of course for your business. Build both your local and online communities, connect with other people whose stories you care about, who you can be honest with, and who will be there for you when you are struggling. Be there for them. Stop trying to do it all alone, you will always feel like you are missing something and falling short. So whether you are a single mother struggling to fill the role of both mama and papa, or you have a large extended family, or a ton of supportive friends- it doesn’t matter. Your community is right there, waiting for you to  lend a hand or ask for someone to hold yours. Both are wonderful, both are needed.

It is just as important to accept help as to offer it, community building is about reciprocity. A give and take. So if you are in a position of strength offer help, if you see someone struggling stop and see if they will accept support, just be there for each other. Sometimes when we give help we actually get the help that we need. It is amazing that way.

I only have one caution – only offer what you are really able to give. Don’t offer because you think you should but don’t really want to do. Never give out of obligation, guilt, or because you want to feel good about yourself, give because you DO feel good about about yourself and giving is it’s own reward. We all deserve to have a village and it is up to us to make it happen.

How are you building community? 

Seventy Ways to Build Community, Save Your Sanity, and Change the World

This post was originally published in 2011 here and continues to be one of the most popular articles in the archives connecting with everyone from new suburban mamas to inner city ministers. As I slowly rediscover how OMHG fits in my life it was time to dust off this old friend for the first post of the year because the best goodness is worth revisiting. I made up an updated list of 70 Ways to Build Community that you can download, print, and share with your own communities by clicking the image above.  Learn the basics of personal community mapping with the 100 Ways To Build Community Mini-Guide available by donation here or if you are a maker in Atlantic Canada connect with the Maritime Makers initiative to build our local community and strengthen our region through cooperation!

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