Belonging Stories

What does it mean to belong?

Stories Gathered as Part of the Belonging Conversation – October and November, 2013

Belonging is…. (Individual stories)
Belonging is feeling valued and dignified.

We heard this from someone living with dementia who partnered with a non-profit organization to do work around educating about dementia. This partnership was rewarding and made her feel like she belonged because she felt listened to and validated. Through this experience her confidence grew, she found her voice, and was able to fight for the rights of persons with dementia.

Belonging is being able to call a new place home

We heard this from someone new to Canada who appreciated the support she received from an organization to help her settle into her new community. As a way of giving back the support she received, she began to volunteer with this organization and use her language skills to be a translator and interpreter for other newcomers. Feeling good about helping others and building relationships with employees and other volunteers and newcomers made her feel like she found a new home.

Belonging is being intentional, creating welcoming and hospitable spaces.

We heard this from someone who moved to a new community and was instantly invited out to neighbours’ homes for suppers and evening visits. Often someone would get out the guitar and there would be a sing along or people would share stories about local lore. She reflects on this experience when trying to be more intentional about creating social networks in her neighbourhood. Today she sees belonging being intentionally fostered though Porch Parties, neighbourhood walking groups, moms’ groups and other such associations.

Belonging is taking an interest in one another, taking time to learn about each other, and showing appreciation.

We heard this from someone with a developmental disability who feels welcomed when he arrives at work each day. He cherishes how co-workers take an interest in him and ask him about his life. He also feels regularly appreciated for the work he
does which makes him love his work even more. Each time people show him that they are happy to see him it increases his sense of belonging.

Belonging is feeling comfortable being who you are

We heard this from someone who spent time at Grand Valley Institution (GVI) for Women and was asked upon returning to the community to be a keynote speaker at a housing event in Kitchener. Leading up to this event she thought she would be judged and that people would look at her funny. However, when she received a standing ovation from the crowd and local politicians were moved by her speech, she felt comfortable and knew she had a lot of offer to her community.

Belonging is sharing good times together and creating a genuine sense of reciprocity

We heard this from a university student who celebrated Christmas by exchanging homemade gifts with four of her roommates. She described these gifts as being personal and unique because they were made from the heart. For her, this was a time of great sharing that made everyone feel special and important.

Belonging is…. (Organizational stories)
Belonging is creating a non-judgemental space that is welcoming & accommodating

We heard this happening in a story about a new mother’s experience with the KW Early Years Centre. She described this as a place where she can go to ask questions and seek advice without being rushed out the door. Staff know her and her children by name and they often recommend programs they feel will benefit her children. Because the Centre has many of the conveniences of home, she can bring a lunch, spend the day,
connect with other moms, and feel like she is surrounded by a supportive family.

We also heard this happening in a story from a staff member working at the YMCA. He caught a teenager sneaking into the Y without a membership. After one of these incidences the teen was in need of a ride home. The staff member gave him a ride and heard about how the teen was sneaking in because he could not afford the membership. After asking the teen to come in with his mother, the staff member describes the “privilege’ he felt when he signed the entire family up for subsidized membership. Rather than sneaking in, the teen now walks through the front door with his head held high.

Belonging is celebrating our community’s treasures

We heard this happening for individuals who are connected with Extend-a-Family and who joined in the Inclusion Celebration that happened last month. This celebration, which was part of the I Choose Dignity event, was a true testament to all of the individuals and businesses who go above and beyond in valuing the many gifts and talents of fellow citizens with developmental and/or physical disabilities. Such celebrations remind us that there are many treasures in the community who are regularly embrace the value and dignity of everyone.

Belonging is having the opportunity to do things that interest you and connecting socially with others who share your life experiences

We heard this happening for individuals dealing with mental health challenges who participate in wellness programs. As an example of wellness programs, hikes are organized by Waterloo Regional Homes for Mental Health. A staff member spoke about how these hikes create opportunities for participants to give support to one another during the more difficult areas of the trails. She noted that during the hikes participants begin to recognize their ability to give and ask for help. Participants spoke about how the shared history and rapport they have with one
another contributes to their feelings of belonging during the hikes.

Belonging is connecting and committing, creating a safe space, valuing diverse perspectives, establishing and maintaining open communication and conducting regular critical reflection and dialogue, guided by a genuine regard for self and others, and a focus on process.

Using an “authentic partnership” model, staff at the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program (MAREP) at the University of Waterloo, actively incorporate and value diverse perspectives and include all key stakeholder voices directly in decision-making, including those of persons living with dementia. It is an alternative approach that views persons with dementia as equal partners in the context of dementia care, support, and formal service. As one of our partners living with dementia explains: “[This approach] values me as a person and the contributions that I can make to dementia care, to my own care. This approach stops the exclusion of persons with dementia by actively including us and our family members in our own care and in the process of developing our care plans”.

Belonging is recognizing and valuing one another’s unique gifts and building on those to connect with community

We heard this from families and individuals being supported by Facile: Independent Facilitation Waterloo Region. A Facile facilitator works with an individual, and spends time getting to know the person and their strengths and gifts. Making sure these strengths fit with the person’s dreams and longings, facilitators then assist the person to connect with associations of common interest that enable the person’s strengths to flourish. Facilitators have connected many people who had been isolated to a range of endeavours, including neighbourhood groups, drumming circles, art classes, pot-luck groups, and jobs.