Building Community Story by Story

I wrote this post for and it first appeared at FacingProject.com. I’m the co-founder of the Facing Project which seeks to connect people through stories to strengthen communities.  

A participant of Facing Homelessness in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, decided she wanted to do something to help homeless individuals sleep better at night. Now she makes and gives sleeping bags to Ft. Wayne’s homeless.

A students writer who participated in Facing Hope in Rome, Georgia, got a job at the magazine that published the books for the project.

Books from Ft. Wayne’s Facing Homelessness are being used in sociology classes in Florida.

TEAMwork for Quality Living, the community partner on the very first Facing Project, organized 15+ local nonprofits to share stories of those in Muncie Facing Poverty. Less than 6 months after their Facing event, which was the culminating event of the Poverty Awareness week, they received the largest grant in the organization’s history–more than $75,000! (Note: The Facing Project isn’t the sole reason for this, but Molly Flodder the director of TEAMwork told us the project played a key part.)

These are the kinds of things that happen when you step out your front door and meet your neighbors face-to-face. When you meet people you don’t normally interact with. When an organization connects with other organizations to lead a community-wide effort.

These are the kinds of things that strengthen a community.

But…

Community is Eroding

Unfortunately, community and civic engagement have been eroding for decades. Think about a community organization, any community organization. Imagine walking into the room where they meet and shaking the members’ hands. Now….what’s the average age of those in the room?

I talked with a local Rotary Club a few months ago in Muncie. I’m 34, and the average age of those in attendance was at least 35 years older than me.

One of the best books I’ve read about this erosion is Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. Putnam writes about the decline of memberships at community organizations and churches, voter turnout, newspaper subscriptions, and a whole host of other areas. He documents that more people are bowling, but less people are bowling in groups–hence, the title of the book.

We are isolating ourselves from those who live in our community, vote in our community, breathe the same air and drink the same water as us, pay taxes that support our community’s schools.

Do you know your neighbor? Do you know one person facing autism, poverty, homelessness, hunger, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, sex trafficking?

The Facing Project is a storytelling project, yes. In fact, we want to become the largest repository of first person stories on the Internet for all sorts of subjects. But stories are simply the engine that drive our mission:

Connecting people through stories to strengthen community

Connecting with people helps us find our purpose, build social capital, and use both to positively impact our communities and one another.

The project connects writers, storytellers (person facing the subject), nonprofits, businesses, municipalities, artists, actors, photographers, and media to shine a light on an issue the community faces. Currently there are more than 10,000 copies of Facing Project books sitting on book shelves, waiting room tables, and in schools. But these aren’t the final products.

A story that doesn’t make an impact is like a heart that doesn’t beat.

We don’t want Facing stories just to be read and forgotten. We want the stories to heal and inspire and lead writers, storytellers, and communities to action.

We want people to make sleeping bags.

Join us to launch 50 projects by 2015

Eight projects are underway or completed. Our goal is to have 50 Facing Projects completed or underway by the end of 2014.  You can help us meet this goal by starting your own Facing Project or sharing our stories.

 
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