I am often struck by the impact of community on one's sense of well-being. Much has shifted through the course of history that has impacted peoples' sense of community. With the industrial revolution, people began moving away from their families and close knit communities for jobs. New communities were formed, but did not always provide the supports that extended families and long standing community ties had previously provided. Social work as a profession came on the scene at this time to fill in some of these gaps.
As you reflect on community in your life, you may come across many communities that you are or have been a part of - a school, a group of friends, a group based on a hobby, sport, or profession, a band, a neighborhood, and of course, the congregation. A sense of community doesn't emerge automatically from any grouping of people, however. It seems that certain factors are often present when one feels a 'sense of community'. One definition of this 'sense of community' is "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together" (McMillan & Chavis 1986). This proposed definition has four elements: "The first element is membership. Membership is the feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness. The second element is influence, a sense of mattering, of making a difference to a group and of the group mattering to its members. The third element is reinforcement: integration and fulfillment of needs. This is the feeling that members' needs will be met by the resources received through their membership in the group. The last element is shared emotional connection, the commitment and belief that members have shared and will share history, common places, time together, and similar experiences." (McMillan & Chavis 1986).
A sense of community brings many benefits such as support, security, and a buffer against challenges in life and feeling alone in one's struggles. Not everyone feels they are able to access the benefits of a community, however. This could be due to many factors. One may feel too busy or overwhelmed with daily life to find the time to connect with others. One may feel that depression or anxiety get in the way of being able to engage or connect with others. One may feel that they haven't found a community that is a good fit for them.
I invite you to reflect on the sense of community in your life. Is there a place where you feel a sense of belonging or connectedness? Is there a place where you feel your presence or absence is noticed by others and matters to them? Is there a place where you feel your values are shared or where you are working toward a common goal? If you would like support in finding ways to engage in community in ways that are meaningful to you, please let me know. I am happy to explore with you ways to navigate barriers and find ways to connect to the communities that are important to you.
Mcmillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology J. Community Psychol., 14(1), 6-23.
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Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at email@example.com or