The Growth and Resilience Network® Observations About Community and Individual Resilience with Steve Piscitelli

Transformation does not just appear. It requires vision, thought, communication, respect, difficult questioning, and better listening. Transformational leaders help orchestrate that communal dance. They recognize that establishing a “shared vision” requires tough conversations. Everyone around the table (typically) sees his or her agenda item as the most important. They struggle to understand what “community” means beyond their narrow framework. Intentions may be good, but attention may not stray far from an individual agenda. The bigger picture can get lost in collective monologues.

Linda Lanier’s storied leadership career included having served as the head of the Jacksonville affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Executive Director of the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, and head of the Jacksonville (Florida) Children’s Commission.

She said effective leaders understand that they must say what everybody knows but few want to own. The leader sets the tone by “speaking truth to power and saying the unspeakable.”

Michael, a former behavioral therapist and recently retired as a hospital vice president for community outreach, said the leader needs to help his team move beyond passivity, navigate through emotion and upset, and be real by explaining the situation. He must help the parties at the table see a higher sense. They must keep their higher calling in mind.

Finally, Linda shared that leaders need to move beyond “hope.” While hoping for a better outcome is laudable, it will come up short if the people you work with (team members as well as clients) have no reference point for the vision. The leader needs to help us see what is possible, especially when we do not have that vision in our experience.

In the mid-1990s, the Walt Disney Company brought the principles of new urbanism to life when it broke ground on Celebration, Florida. Located minutes from Disney’s Orlando theme parks, Celebration was planned to be a “complete diverse, walkable, compact, and vibrant place to live, learn, work, and play. This created community would be a traditional American town built anew.”

While visitors may focus on the architecture, mixed use zoning, mansions, townhouses, greenspace, cozy shops and bistros, Celebration is more than brick, mortar, and homeowner association covenants. Look deeper—just like any vibrant community—and we are reminded that people live in those houses, traverse the streets, and patronize the shops. Old and young, they need more than quaint streets and manufactured snowflakes during the holiday season. They want a sense of belonging and meaning.

In 2015, the Foundation launched Thriving In Place, a resource program for the “mature” Celebration population. From conversations with Celebration residents, it became clear neighbors aged 55 and older were facing challenging situations to remain in their homes. Some needed assistance with basic home maintenance, while others required transportation to and from doctors, hospitals, the grocery store, special events, or places of worship. A few had to confront the difficult situation to give up their homes and independent life style. You could say these older residents (and some with disabilities) had trouble “aging in place.” Foundation board member Eileen Crawford, however, saw this from another perspective.

Thriving In Place is a community-based membership program designed to help residents stay in their home and the community they love. If you are at least 55 years old or a person with a disability of any age, you are eligible to become a member of our program. It enables residents to live in their own homes leading healthy, safe, independent and productive lives.

And, according to program manager Mary Pat Rosenthal, socialization continues to be the common denominator—the glue—for the Thriving In Place members. The activities, events, excursions, and the intergenerational volunteer opportunities allow the members to be involved, active, and contributing community resources themselves. They still have talents and gifts to grow and to share. Remember, as board member Crawford first stated, these folks are doing anything but “aging in place!”

Research tells us that “hope” requires three ingredients: Goals + Pathways + Agency. Our goal—a rainbow that attracts and draws our attention—must be valuable to us and/or our community. A pathway—a plausible route to the goal—must be present. And, we intuit (in some way or another) we have the ability (at some level), the power, and the talent to reach that goal.

As cliché as it might sound, Songwriters’ Night (SWN) started on the back of a cocktail napkin. In 2003 I served on the Atlantic Beach Cultural Arts and Recreation Advisory Committee. That body approved my suggestion for the city to sponsor an outdoor music event for our community. I went to the best person I knew who could deliver as both the MC and musical muse for the event, Mike “Shack” Shackelford. As a singer-songwriter, Shack brought the musical chops needed to produce a professional event. He could mentor me (the promoter) and the stage performers (the talent).

At the time, Shack’s band was playing at a lounge in Atlantic Beach. I met him there one night and our plan came together in a matter of minutes. With the backing of our city government, we would provide a free, family-friendly music event for our community. It would be for amateurs and professionals alike. No auditions required. All welcomed. Respectful performances (read: G-rated; family-oriented) only.

One such aspiring singer-songwriter shared her experiences with me. Twelve-year old Izzy Moon Mayforth told me she likes that people listen to her music—and that she gets to listen to others and learn from them for her songwriting and performing. When she hears the heart-felt applause after her performances she says to herself, “Glad that I did it!” She gains confidence—and that strengthens the agency needed to move toward goal completion.

Shack (who, BTW, is a few years older than 12) believes one of the most beautiful results of the monthly events is to see people, who were petrified at first, come back as part of the regular rotation of artists. One who helped me perform (singing and with a tasteful lead guitar) one of my songs when he was about 10 years old, now records and acts in Los Angeles.

For the audience, the event builds the community’s “social capital.” It serves as a community laboratory to help young and not-so-young, of varying musical abilities, wing toward their dreams. In between songs, before the event, or after the lights go dark, the audience talks about things other than music like neighborhood schools, workplace opportunities, home improvement projects, or important community issues. Spin-off events to other parts of the county have occurred as well.