22 September 2017

Belonging in the Community: Neighbors Knowing Neighbors

Written by Linda Francis, Posted in Social & Emotional Learning

Belonging in the Community: Neighbors Knowing Neighbors

At Success of All Youth (SAY), belonging is the cornerstone of our collective efforts to empower young people to reach their full potential.

Children with a strong sense of belonging in their families, schools and community develop the emotional strength and self-efficacy that helps them cope with challenges and obstacles. Research indicates a sense of belonging has a profound effect on emotions, social skills, relationships, behavior and cognition – all of SAY’s other indicators of well-being.

One important variable that strengthens a sense of belonging is how well you know your neighbors. Studies show that good neighborly connections are a source of stability and information sharing – it’s even linked to self-reports of better health. 

SAY and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center developed Neighbors Knowing Neighbors (NKN) when we learned that many youth in Oak Park have not even met the people who live next door. This is especially true in high-density blocks with multi-unit buildings. The Collaboration for Early Childhood and its partners are also touching children right where they live through the Home Visiting services.

Our public school districts have made “belonging” a focus of their efforts to improve the culture and climate of our schools; to help students develop the social and emotional skills necessary to live happy healthy lives. School staff are working to build stronger relationships with students both in and outside of the classroom.

As individuals, we are role models for our young people. As adults, it is our responsibility to support organizations that advocate and develop policies for inclusiveness that help young people foster a strong sense of belonging. As members of communities that embrace diversity, we must provide opportunities for young people to hone the skills needed to honor our differences.

We will listen to the young people and to each other to gather our collective knowledge. We may not have all of the answers in the beginning, but increasingly we will achieve our goals by learning from our mistakes and continuously improving our efforts. I challenge everyone to find the place where you can participate. Do you talk with your kids about inclusion – REALLY TALK? Can you volunteer your time as a mentor, coach or tutor? Can you contribute to the Youth Engagement Scholarship (YES) Fund? Do you know the kids on your block and do they know you?

I hope the answer is yes, because we all belong in this work.

About the Author

Director, Success of All Youth

Linda Francis

Linda Francis comes to the Foundation as an accomplished industrial engineer and a program leader with extensive experience developing and implementing solutions. She has substantial analytical, technical and communication skills with a background in continuous improvement. Locally, she has worked with diverse individual and organizational cultures toward common goals. She currently serves on the Board of the Oak Park Education Foundation.

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