(We Could Be) Heroes
In this issue, we shine spotlights on some of our local heroes—people who have worked to improve the lives of many in our community. These admirable people deserve not only those spotlights, but also our gratitude. If you see them—let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.
But you know what? You, too, can be a hero! How? One way: simply by making connections to others in the community. Each of us, in our own small ways, can impact others’ lives.
Family connections—social connections—are important to our wellbeing: Numerous studies have found that strong social connections can reduce morbidity and mortality, even among those whose habits—maybe they smoke or follow a poor diet or are physically inactive—put them at increased risk of illness. (Just google “maintaining social connections,” and browse the 195 million results….)
Speaking of poor habits—the likelihood you’ll pursue those is itself impacted by the company you keep: People whose friends don’t smoke are themselves less likely to smoke. If your friends consume a healthful diet and get some exercise, you’re likely to do so as well. And vice versa: Hang out with the smoking, indulgent diet, couch potato crowd, and you’re more likely to exhibit those behaviors, too.
At CAMP Rehoboth, we are big believers in forming and maintaining connections. Some of our connections are the partnerships we form with other organizations—like those we’ve established with AARP, the Rehoboth Art League, Beebe Healthcare, DelTech, LaRed, and Bayhealth, to name just a few.
And others are the connections among individuals we hope will develop—organically—as like-minded people meet one another at the classes, exhibits, performances, trips, and support groups we sponsor or host throughout the year. Or maybe folks will connect at one of our fabulous parties—Sundance, Women’s FEST, or the Block Party, anyone?
Many among us feel connected and supported. And some—not so much. We asked about that in our 2017 survey, and received both some reassuring and some troubling news.
On the up-side: About 75 percent of participants felt they usually or always received the emotional and social support they needed. And the vast majority of participants—around 90 percent—reported they had people in their lives they could talk to and depend upon for help. Although fewer people felt as positively about their communities, still, about 75 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statements, “I feel connected to my community,” and “I can get the support I need in my community.”
Overall, that looked pretty good. But—on the down-side—there clearly are some community connections in need of strengthening: 25 percent of people, after all, reported they were receiving the emotional and social support they needed only sometimes, seldom, or—most chillingly—never. The same percentage didn’t feel those connections to their communities, or feel confident their community was a source of support.
One group in particular reported markedly lower feelings of connection and support: Our transgender participants. Only 47 percent of these individuals felt they usually or always received the emotional and social support they needed. Just 77 percent reported having people they could talk to and depend upon for help. And only 46 percent agreed or strongly agreed they felt “connected to my community” or could “get the support I need in my community.”
Exactly what community were people speaking of? We can’t be sure. “Community”—purposefully—was not defined, so participants’ responses reflected their thoughts about any community to which they belonged, e.g., their town, or housing development, or workplace, or place of worship. Or maybe, CAMP Rehoboth.
We don’t need to try to parse that now. We just need to do our part to be sure CAMP Rehoboth continues to offer opportunities to connect—both with our organization and with the individuals who compose it (that would be all of us)—to those who seek us out. Or who we find in our midst, seemingly alone or adrift. Maybe especially those folks.
And, we’re trying—on many levels. One of those big parties (Sundance!) is almost upon us. A second—the Block Party—follows close behind. (For Women’s FEST, you’ll have to wait till 2020.) But there are myriad other paths to connection being blazed also, as the Health and Wellness Program shapes its 2019-2020 calendar. For example:
1. Our funding this year from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation tripled, enabling us to further expand our testing capacity for HIV (and other sexually transmitted infections), adding two more testing sites.
2. We’ve received our first-ever funding from the Delaware Community Foundation, enabling us to hire a part-time Youth Coordinator to work with the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) of one Sussex County high school. We’d like to help strengthen the GSAs (and their members), perhaps finding ways for them to work collaboratively across schools.
3. We were awarded our largest-ever Grant-in-Aid by the state. With this funding, we plan to continue a number of programs, including: Tai Chi, BROGA, and yoga; nutrition/mindful eating; tobacco cessation; Silver Pride (ages 55+) lunch-and-learn; gardening; arts workshops (with RAL); dinners-with-a-doctor (disease-focused discussions); social occasions, e.g., bus trips, and one-time offerings on various topics; support groups, e.g., winter blues support, grief support, caregivers support, AA meetings; and a legal clinic, offering information about wills, advance directives, and healthcare proxies.
Of course, providing space and speakers/instructors isn’t enough to make connections happen. But it does provide the opportunity. The rest—well, that’s up to us: Why not be someone’s hero? No cape required. Just reach out that hand, speak to the newcomer, leverage your apparent common interest (you’re both at this activity, aren’t you?) and issue a warm welcome.
Not into groups? No problem! Remember that paragraph at the beginning of this column, about a person’s tendency to mirror the habits of those whose company they keep? Well, here’s your chance! Model the behaviors you know will most benefit your friends (and you): Meet up for lunch—and order something healthy. Invite someone along as you walk the boardwalk or explore that new trail. Offer up that extra concert or theatre ticket.
Let’s all work to reduce that percentage of folks who aren’t so sure their communities and connections have their backs. Strengthening our connections can only be a good thing for us all. ▼
Marj is an epidemiologist and wordsmith who has devoted her life to minutiae. She reports that yes, the devils are in the details. Aren’t they always?