Our Nation is faced with several dilemmas. A record unemployment rate of 9.3%, with 4.4% of the population chronically unemployed, an educational system in crisis, the future of our children and grandchildren mortgaged to the hilt. We can’t spend our way out of this economic crisis. A shift in values is called for and it’s happening.
Prairie communities existed, survived and grew because of neighbors helping each other. It was an American tradition glorified in such classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and those hopeful “let’s put on a show” Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films. We became a Volunteer Nation.
Americans support the Red Cross in global emergencies and hop on planes to lend a hand in rescue efforts. Gen Y grew up with community service as part of their education and a critical competitive advantage on college admissions applications. Baby Boomer affluence spanned a “give back” generation, much the way the affluence of the 50’s spawned the Hippie revolutions of the 60’s.
Evidence of our volunteer spirit can even be found on reality television. NBC has demonstrated the power of Barnraising on its show the “School Pride.” The viewing public can watch a hopeless, broken school rejuvenated in an hour.
So, how can we harness that volunteer energy to rebuild our Nation in these difficult times?
Organizations and people around the country band together to help neighbors whose homes have been destroyed or simply need repair. Habitat for the Humanities introduced Barnraising to mass American culture; smartly pulled corporations into the mix and became a global sensation. Company’s blithely mix community giving with team building. 100’s of employees show up in matching tee-shirts to change the life of a stranger. Rebuilding Together has a program to fix up homes in need of repair and other cities organize teams to paint the houses of the elderly.
Investment Clubs were a raging idea in the 90’s. Friends and new acquaintances pooled their financial resources and investment knowledge to build small financial empires. Oprah Winfrey and Suze Orman packaged the concept as female economic empowerment. After the stock market carnage of the 2000’s not sure if many of them have survived, but the idea of pooling financial and knowledge resources is a good one.
Let’s take this thing viral. Add social networking to the mix and we can have thousands of subscribers virtually overnight. The Social Network offers a new way for community to form. The web is filled with examples of “Barnraising,” like Wikipedia and Kiva.org. You may not live next door to each other but you can still be part of a tight-knit group. After all, what are Facebook friends for?
You can start a Barnraising group to tackle just about anything from starting small businesses, to large home repair projects, or energizing job searches. Here are some simple steps. Each month a member or family in the group is the recipient of all the attention and resources of the group. Some groups pool small amounts of money each month for the projects. Five dollars each from 20 members can make things happen at Home Depot. Everyone knows that eventually it will be their turn to receive the help of their new community.
For a Wiki perspective on Barnraising go to Meatball Wiki.
The Slow Food Movement has spawned an earthier form of Barnraising. Neighbors band together to create community gardens. A small community garden can feed several families. Getting back to the Earth is a value shift in our culture. Food that you have cared for and tended just tastes better than something you picked up at the store and the gratitude is built right in from your hard work. Got a plot of land? Think about starting a community garden. BackyardAbundance.com hosts occasional cooperative working events where friends gather to help one member of the group take their personal garden to the next level.
The sense of oneness that was created after September 11th was the beginning of a shift. A Nation of people who had become increasingly isolated and fragmented began to come together. We were all in this together. An American culture that became known for rugged individualism has matured. The kind of love that is expressed in Barnraisings and community gardens is truly transformational. These unprecedented times will nurture unparalleled changes in the American psyche and value system.