One lesson we have collectively learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of strong support systems in getting us through tough times. The term doesn’t just refer to our friends and family, though; these support systems also refer to our communities. Here’s how to build a strong community—and involve the kids, too!
Building communities can help vulnerable populations, as well as increase our resilience against threats such as food insecurity, natural disasters, and climate change. When our communities thrive, people have the opportunity to thrive too. By involving our children, we model the importance of working together to build stronger communities and a better world.
Sophi Robertson is a Zero Waste speaker and consultant who aims to make eco-friendly living accessible. Like many people who participate in the Zero Waste movement, she initially focused on her family’s waste reduction practices as a tangible way to become more eco-friendly.
Over time though, Robertson’s efforts shifted more toward a holistic, intersectional view of environmentalism that focuses on community work and human rights. As an environmentalist and mother, she is committed to modeling these practices for her seven-year-old daughter and involving her whenever possible.
“Community building helps us make connections and makes us more resilient in general,” Robertson says. “Think of it as building your own support network, in which you’re relying on others and others can rely on you too.” She compares environmentalism to parenting: each takes a village.
COVID-19 challenges us all
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has turned everything—including environmentalism—on its head. As Robertson notes, “We all started creating more waste, and that’s okay. We need to remember: as important as waste reduction is, it’s only one piece of a much larger picture.”
For instance, many people attempting to live in a low-waste way have opted to support local restaurants in their communities by getting takeout, even if it comes in single-use plastic.
Community building has changed too. “Early in the pandemic, I was feeling pretty sad and worried about losing the sense of community that I had developed,” Robertson explains. “But then I realized that we just have to rethink what ‘community’ is.”
Together with like-minded environmentalist friends, Robertson created a YouTube channel called “WE-Solation” with videos teaching fun and useful eco-skills, such as making roti or mending clothes. “Community is still there, but it has to be more intentional and more creative.”
Kids, too, can take part in community work in COVID times. Robertson suggests things such as creating cards out of upcycled materials to send to seniors or those in long-term care.
Thinking globally, acting locally
We’ve often heard the saying “think globally, act locally” but what does it mean in practice? Often, it means community work. Here are some tips for getting started. (See the sidebar “10 fun ways to help build your community” for more ideas.)
Do what you’re interested in
Afraid of commitment? Don’t be, says Robertson. “At the beginning, I shied away from community work because I was afraid of overcommitting. But it’s not like that—you can do what works for you, as an extension of what you’re already doing.”
She gives examples of volunteering with your child’s school council or starting a “green team” or composting plan with your building or workplace. Robertson’s family has also started fostering animals through a local rescue organization, as they had been discussing adopting a pet anyway.
“Find out what’s around you. There’s no end to the number of resources and places that need support,” Robertson says. Check out research libraries, museums, rescue organizations, and nonprofit organizations near you that may be looking for help. You might be surprised at what you discover!
Involve kids in movements
Yes, kids can get involved in the big issues! Consider attending a local city hall meeting with your children (many are virtual these days) or encouraging them to write a letter to a local politician about an issue they care about.
“I try to involve my daughter as much as possible,” says Robertson. Together, they have attended marches and rallies for Black Lives Matter, Indigenous rights, climate strikes, and more. According to Robertson, these events are very important for teaching her daughter about the wider world.
“There’s a huge culture around sharing hand-me-downs for kids’ clothes, and that’s wonderful!” Robertson exclaims. “But we need to create that culture more widely, such as with things like toys and tools.”
She tells an anecdote of coming across a huge, brand-new stuffed flamingo that was going to be trashed. Instead of letting it go to a landfill, she posted it on her local Zero Waste Facebook group on social media, where it was picked up and used for a school library display that had a flamingo theme.
Again, kids can be included in the process. Consider asking your children to go through their things and create plans for donating them responsibly, such as through local “caremongering” groups, or trading them via community groups such as BUNZ.
“I bring my daughter to drop-offs and pick-ups,” Robertson says. “It’s a beautiful thing to share resources and create connections, relationships, and friendships.”
Children are important members of our communities. Not only do they deserve to live in thriving, resilient communities, but they can also be an integral part of making these communities a reality.
10 fun ways to help build your community
Some of these activities may have to be modified for COVID-19, but hopefully this list will help inspire you and your family for years to come.
- Foster animals from a local animal rescue organization.
- Write cards or letters to seniors or those in long-term care.
- Host a clothing or toy swap.
- Become a citizen scientist (see tip box).
- Create a Little Free Library.
- Shovel snow or weed gardens for neighbors who might need extra help.
- Run errands or make extra meals for seniors, new mothers, or others who might need extra help.
- Help with your local community garden.
- Volunteer at your local food bank or soup kitchen.
- Raise a service dog puppy (look up organizations near you).
What is a resilient neighborhood?
From COVID-19 to climate change, all communities face challenges. A neighborhood’s resilience refers to its ability to adapt to these changes and crises, while meeting residents’—and the planet’s—needs.
Resilient neighborhoods aim for local self-reliance and strong community connections through programs, infrastructure, and services such as community gardens, social events, and resource sharing. For more information and to help your community become more resilient, visit <resilientneighbourhoods.org>.