Connecting Community, Creating Resilience
The UCS 2022 Human Service Summit hosted more than 150 attendees in-person for the first time since 2019. Leaders from various sectors of Johnson County came together to foster ideas about creating strong and resilient communities in the face of shared challenges. After assessing the impact of the pandemic, the need for connectedness is greater now than ever before.
The event kicked off with a UCS presentation from Kristy Baughman, Director of Education and Planning, and Kathryn Evans, Manager of Special Projects, who demonstrated the importance of creating strong communities by analyzing survey data. They noted that nationally, older residents fare the best when it comes to neighborhood connectedness and maintaining strong social support often due to decades spent living in the same neighborhood. They also demonstrated that people in all kinds of communities desire to live in racially and ethnically diverse areas, and pointed out the growing diversity of Johnson County where the population of color has grown by more than 50% since 2010. Attendees were challenged to find small ways to connect with others in their communities through acts of kindness and through a new project: “One Small Step.” UCS invites Johnson County residents to sign up for our “One Small Step” initiative in which strangers with different beliefs share a 50-minute conversation about their lives to bridge divides created by political differences. Click here for the Summit Presentation Materials and Program.
In partnership with American Public Square, the Summit hosted a discussion of multi-sector panelists who were intentionally selected for their roles in fostering community connectedness. Moderated by Denesha Snell, Director of Programs at American Public Square, panelists included:
- Erik Erazo, Executive Director of Diversity and Engagement, Olathe Public Schools
- Andrea Generaux, Executive Director, Livable Neighborhoods Task Force, Wyandotte County
- Colette Panchot, Secretary of the Board of Overland Park’s Neighborhood Executive Committee, and Chair of the Beverly Estates Steering Committee
- Tim Suttle, Lead Pastor of Redemption Church, and Co-Vice President of the Good Faith Network.
View the 2022 Human Service Summit panelists' stories below:
Olathe Mentor Creates Opportunities for Success (Erik Erazo)
Bridging Neighborhood Divides Through Cooperation (Andrea Generaux)
Neighbors Give More than Just a Cup of Sugar (Colette Panchot)
Faith Communities Work Towards Long-Lasting Collaborations (Tim Suttle)
Several themes emerged from the discussion including the power of creating change at an individual level. They explained the value of fostering collaboration across sectors and building bridges between people to achieve shared goals. In many of their experiences, they found that people are more likely to trust and support initiatives they had a hand in creating. They placed great emphasis on the value of being a community driven leader and working within systems that already exist to create lasting change.
Following the panel, Tricia Maxfield, Civics Education Associate of American Public Square, led participants through a breakout session continuing the theme of connecting across differences. She explained that in an increasingly individualistic world, differences in opinion can often be barriers to strong, long-lasting personal connections. Participants were challenged to practice ambiguous, dialectical thinking to create better community dialogue. Each group was then tasked with having a difficult conversation on a sticky topic (such as: Should student debt be forgiven? What should lawmakers do about gun violence? How should parents teach their children about race/racism?) using this model of thinking. Although many experienced the difficulties of dialectical thinking at first, most found that listening with the intent of understanding rather than listening to respond was effective in creating a more civil conversation.
In the end, participants identified qualities of a good neighbor and qualities that contribute to a strong neighborhood. Many explained that they believe in the power of meaningful interactions and getting to know “who” someone is rather than what their role is in the community. Simplicity is key; the most discussed quality of good neighbors was friendliness and being welcoming toward others. Strong and connected communities are a vital part of Johnson County health and contribute to our shared resiliency every step of the way.
UCS appreciates the strong participation from Summit attendees and would like to thank American Public Square for their partnership in this event. Many thanks to this year’s Summit sponsors: Marshaun Butler, Tom Herzog, Lindsey Family Fund, Fred & Carol Logan, Charles & Angela Sunderland, Maury & Angie Thompson, Johnson County Community College, MARC, REACH Healthcare Foundation and United Way of Greater Kansas City.