CULTIVATING COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” –Coretta Scott King With all the changes and stress that come from frequent relocations and deployments, military families can sometimes feel isolated from their communities. However, being connected to your community can help manage those very stressors and support the wellbeing of your military- connected family. We wanted to share the benefits of community connections and offer suggestions for how to successfully integrate into your new community. Recent research suggested that military parents who felt more connected to their community were more likely to use resilient coping strategies when difficult situations arose. This could look like creatively adapting to the situation or seeing difficult situations as opportunities for growth. In this study, when parents reported using more resilient coping strategies, their children showed greater well-being and their whole family felt more connected and ready to take on challenges. We have also learned that stronger community connections play a role in family well-being, even after accounting for important aspects of military life, such as Service member rank and number of deployments. When Service members have strong community connections, they have greater life satisfaction and fewer depressive symptoms, and furthermore, their families are more adaptive and emotionally close. Community connectedness can benef it Service members, their individual family members, and the whole family. Engaging in your community may be an effective coping strategy, but it does require consistent effort to achieve and manage — especially for families that relocate frequently. Below we offer a list of helpful tips to make integrating into your community a smoother process, even amid a global pandemic. Ways to Cultivate Community Connections Find a place you feel comfortable and confident. Do you enjoy workout classes? Go to church? Love art or music? Have active children? Any of these different sectors of life have a community linked to them; therefore, you might just need to be thoughtful about how you engage with these activities. If you are completely new to your area, do a little Googling to see if your preferred types of gyms, places of worship, museums, events, or parenting groups/youth recreation activities are nearby. You can even search for virtual meetings to ensure you are able to maintain social distance! Bring a friend! It is always easier to go to a new event/place if you have another person with you to make things feel more comfortable and fun! A friend could be a spouse or even your child. If no one is available, feel conf ident in going alone - you will not be the only person attending solo, especially in communities surrounding military areas where transition is so common! Give the community a second (or third!) chance. It is easy to be turned off after one negative experience with a person, the feel of the room, or even the location of an event, but don’t dismiss an opportunity to join a community without testing the waters a few times. It is easy to call it quits after one uncomfortable encounter, but your impression of a group may improve with a variety of experiences within that community. Be engaged in more than one community. It can be nice to be part of multiple, diverse groups of friends and organizations. Maybe you attend a place of worship or a Bible study with one group, have a workout routine with another, and play dates for the kids with yet another group — whatever the case might be, it is nice to have multiple outlets in your life. That way, you always have opportunities to add more community connection activities, and they always feel new and exciting because your groups are so different! Include your family. Doing activities as a family will help keep things nicely familiar, even in a new place. Plus, experiencing the community together will help you to love it more! Find activities you enjoy doing as a family and commit to doing them on a regular basis. For example, make it a priority for the family to attend sibling’s sporting events to cheer one another on (most likely, they will be able to f ind kids their own age there too). You can attend your faith-based community group together weekly, virtually or in-person, and make both social and spiritual connections there. Many communities have regular family events such as musical concerts or movie screenings (now frequently adapted to be outdoors and socially distant), so consider checking these out as a family, and even inviting other families to join! Military families face unique stressors, but luckily, they are not alone. The community surrounding military families can offer great support, both to individual family members and the whole family. As the saying goes, “People need people.” So, lean in, use those around you as a source of support, and be an active member in your community — you just may be the person someone else needs!