People Building Community

Two weeks ago at the NAEYC conference in Los Angeles I attended a session about building community and connection. The session featured an elementary school that was trying to create more student involvement and connection to nature. The school is near a farm and had started growing vegetables and other plants in a greenhouse on school property without much success. The lack of success resulted in the green house space becoming a storage area for old furniture and other school equipment.

One parent in the school cultivated a farm nearby. One day the parent was dropping off his children and noticed the greenhouse and the other plants around the school. The parent noticed the plants were not in good condition and mentioned to a teacher he was willing to volunteer and help restore the green house and the plants outside the school. Utilizing the expertise and experience from cultivating a farm, the parent transformed the school grounds and the green house into a thriving space for children and teachers to practice and learn more about growing food and fostering a connection to nature. The food that was produced at the school was shared with the entire school community. The greenhouse became a place where parents, children, teachers and volunteers gathered to learn about gardening and plant science while contributing to the community.

The creation of the green house and the connections made from that experience led to the school connecting with the farm. The connection facilitated children visiting the farm and learning more about the animals and plants. The program grew and embodies a lasting connection between a school, farm and community. The story was inspiring. Discovering their journey and the experience started my thinking. What caused the program to experience success when other attempts failed?

Every community that is thriving needs connectors. A person that bonds the other participants together and can populate multiple worlds to shape community. Connectors represent the human glue, the ties that bind people together. Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point mentions connectors saying, “They are the kinds of people who know everyone”. And more importantly, “connectors occupy many different worlds, subcultures and niches”. In this story the school was struggling to create the outdoor and nature experience desired because of a knowledge and time gap. Then a connector (the parent) arrives and volunteers to assist and brings all of the worlds together. The parent personifies a goal because the parent lives in both the school community and the farm community and can relate to the needs of each world.

Connectors are important because they create community out of their own belief. Connectors are people who encounter a need and have the ability, desire and knowledge in many areas of life. Connectors create belief out of communal experience because they believe and communicate to others a belief that is contagious. All schools, organizations and groups feature people acting as connectors. Your connectors may not stand out but not all connectors live as extroverts. Connectors represent the people who envision the mission ahead and work for the greater good, not for attention, but for the betterment of all. Connectors are the hero's of community building and are deserving of our thanks for building and nurturing our communities.

Who are the connectors in your life, school or community? How do connectors contribute to your community?