Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does Community Matter?

In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell theorizes that culture, community, and context play a significantly greater determining factor in success than we typically imagine. Most often, we focus on the direct parallel between achievement and individual talent or work ethic.

In the early pages of the book, Gladwell looks at a town of early 20th century immigrants from a village in Italy who avoided the high rates of heart disease that many Americans over age 65 face. It wasn't behavioral trends or genetics that made the difference. Rather it was a "powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world."

This is fascinating. A community of healthy personal interactions, strong relationships, and a deep sense of connectedness created a group of people that defied one of the most prominent dieseases in our country.

Does community matter? Apparently, it does.

I like that story and the overall theme of Outliers as I think it's a great illustration of the work that we're trying to do at the YMCA. Individual physical, social, emotional, and spiritual growth is important and we try to create programs and services that provide opportunities for that. However, there is a deeper theme of community that's interwoven throughout what the YMCA offers. It's about families sharing experiences together at Family Camp. It's about the early bird group of seniors enjoying coffee together after their workout and talking about life. It's about preschoolers learning the importance of being active while being exposed to other cultures and languages - and doing this with their parents. It's about buidling a stronger community through fostering healthy relationships.

I'd like to think that at the YMCA we work to provide an environment that builds strong kids and strong families through a community that offers a bit of a "powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating [us] from the pressures of the modern world."