Our Future Together
A criminally insane family moving into the house next door could be the launch of a horror movie or at least the start of a very bad day.
No wonder Robert Frost’s neighbor concludes that “Good fences make good neighbors.”
In 2010, Maple City Heath Care Center is experimented with the theory that good stories make good neighbors.
In the spring of 2010, we hosted the first Our Futures Together (OFT) group. Strangers met once each week for six weeks. In the beginning, their only known connection was living in the same geographic neighborhood.
Members of the group met to talk about what kind of future they want for children and steps to accomplish this future.
The first group went so well that the center hosted a second group in November 2010.
Jason Shenk helped make neighborhood connections and was co-leader of the groups.
“Before the group could talk about where we wanted to go, we needed to understand where we were starting from,” said Jason. “To understand that, we toldstories about our families and our experiences in our neighborhood.”
While it may seem odd that a health center would host neighborhood groups, the program fits Maple City Health Care Center’s mission to improve the health of our community.
“People who are lonely, stressed, and isolated tend to experience more illness and to be ill for longer periods of time,” said James Nelson Gingerich, the center’s executive director.
“Our expectation for OFT was that disparate people would establish and build relationships. Healthy relationships decrease stress and isolation.”
One of the biggest barriers between people in our neighborhood is language. The OFT groups used a Spanish-English interpreter so that people from both languages could participate.
An English speaker in the first OFT group was understandably wary of people who speak a different language.
Then he heard the story of a Spanish-speaking woman who defied unemployment by baking and selling cakes. The wary English-speaker responded with a tearful story about how, as a young child, he saw his mother support her family by baking and selling bread.
In both OFT groups, people shared information about resources. They helped each other with health related problems such as sharing recipes, locating places to exercise, and finding affordable dental care.
As part of the second OFT group, Zyanya Fuentes Ortiz and Gaby Tovar volunteered to lead an OFT group for the children.
“The children worked on the same issues as their parents,” Jason said. “They created pictures of a garden to show both the beauty of their community and the parts that need weeding.”
Members of the OFT groups recognized that the group was a place where they could safely talk about both the assets and needs of the community.
“One of the things we learned from the stories is how hard it is for newcomers to feel safe and welcome,” said Jason. “We decided that one way to improve the future for all of our children is to reach out and welcome new families.”
As a result of the OFT groups, the next time a new family moves into our neighborhood, they have a better chance of finding welcoming neighbors rather than a situation reminiscent of a horror movie.