150 years of medical and social research has shown four factors to have the most powerful effect on the psychological, social and physical well-being of people. These factors are based on the degree to which people feel/have:
- a sense of community;
- connections to other networks for resources and exchange;
- individual and collective control; and
- adequate economic, financial assets and other resources. (Chavis)
Other research tells us that isolation is a significant health risk. The antidote to isolation is an increased sense of belonging.
Anecdotes from recent emergencies tell us when neighbors help neighbors more people survive and feel safer.
When small grants are provided helping neighbors engage with each other, experience is teaching us that those neighbors can leverage or match those dollars by 200-300%.
Yet, we’re not seeing community building strategies promoted as viable solutions to our community challenges such as our aging population, our immigrant/refugee population, or our youth. Social capital can improve the efficiency of our society.
For example, if baby boomers through an increased sense of belonging can reduce their consumption by just one pill per day (assume $1 per pill), $28 billion could be saved in one year (78 million x $365).
Public-health experts are finding that an individual’s well-being is the product not just of his/her behaviors and emotions but more of the way they feed into a larger social network. If a subject’s neighbor is happy, that subject is 34% more likely to be happy too. A happy neighbor had more apparent influence on one’s happiness than siblings or friends living within a mile, or a co-resident spouse! (TIME December 22, 2008)
In the numerous reports of how and where the stimulus package is focused, what is missing is sustained support for community building strategies, and entities such as neighborhood resource centers. These types of community-based organizations are key pieces of the local support system to increase engagement among neighbors. This support can lead to greater efficacy of allocations of local government resources while building community.
Sarah is Executive Director at the Neighborhood Resource Center of Colorado. She wrote this op-ed piece on April 9, 2009.