Healthy community depends on making connections

Sarah Johnson

What makes a community thrive? According to the speakers who’ll participate in the Community Impact Council’s upcoming State of the Community events, connectedness is at the heart.

The Community Impact Council is a coalition of business, government and nonprofit organizations that support the nonprofit community in Mesa County through advocacy, education, networking and training. A State of the Community panel presentation is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Mesa County Libraries Central Library at 443 N. Sixth St. The presentation will address community connectedness, a topic of broad-reaching effects and interest. An hour-long radio show focusing on the same subject, but with different panelists, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 15 on KAFM 88.1.

Connectedness is a timely topic given the growth and chance occurring in our community. There’s also the results of a recent survey that found one in five Americans reporting feeling lonely or isolated “often” or “always.” In addition, the topic aligns well with the council’s organizational goal of developing connections between agencies and the community at large.

When businesses collectively invest time and money in their communities, they have more impact. When organizations collaborate, the community experiences better outcomes. When people know their neighbors, they tend to feel their neighborhoods are safer. In short, the premise is a well-connected community thrives.

Panelists scheduled to participate at the library event include David Foster, co-owner of Kiln Coffee; Mona Highline, founder of the Joseph Center; Joanne Iglesias, director of Western Region One Source; Andy Smith, editorial page editor at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel; and Jen Taylor, a local real estate agent and long-time outdoor recreation advocate.

Both panels will address connectedness from a number of angles, including at the community, organizational and individual levels.

David Foster’s philosophy of work, for example, touches on all three. Spend a few minutes at Kiln, the downtown Grand Junction coffee shop he owns with his twin brother Jonathan, and you’ll hear David and other members of the staff greet more than one customer by name. Patrons are likely to run into friends and acquaintances there, too. Kiln has become a gathering place in the community, but the business reaches beyond the standard coffee shop connections.

Earlier this year, David Foster organized five other Mesa County coffee shops to offer free espresso drinks to anyone who came in for a conversation with a friend on Sept. 10, World Suicide Awareness Day. He saw “Connect Over Coffee” as a way for businesses normally considered competitors to collectively address a problem — suicide — that’s disproportionately affected our community.

At Mesa County Public Health, connectedness factors into how we do our work as well. Evidence suggests strong social connections can be as beneficial to our overall health as exercising regularly, losing weight or quitting smoking. Solid community ties — including trust in institutions and within neighborhoods —are associated with higher academic achievement, lower crime rates and robust economic growth.

As Mesa County grows and changes, we must nurture and value our connections to each other if we want a healthy community. The CIC event on Oct. 16 offers an opportunity to connect with others and join the conversation about how we thrive together. I hope to see you there.