I am deeply troubled by the fragmenting of our increasingly homogenized communities and the widening of the social boundaries separating different cohorts in many domains, whether of power, wealth, education, culture or otherwise. My dismay, however, is alleviated by a belief in the capacity of conversation to bridge those rifts. That belief received validation at the Neighborhood Table Talk hosted by the AmeriCorps service team at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha.
The Neighborhood Table Talk was about fostering community connection through storytelling exchange. Residents in north Omaha and south Omaha neighborhoods shared personal stories about their neighborhood on a postcard. The AmeriCorps team mailed those postcards to random people in different neighborhoods around the Omaha metro to break down stereotypes and build community. The postcards included an invitation to the Neighborhood Table Talk event and the opportunity to join others in food, conversation and a chance to meet new people.
At the event, a theme of deliberate engagement repeatedly emerged. None manifested deliberate engagement more than pastor Vanessa Ward, who described the courage, vulnerability, empathy and listening that enabled her to create an environment of hope in her neighborhood. Another theme that consistently arose was that of walkable neighborhoods, where opportunities to access daily personal and social needs also facilitated our ability to be accessible to each other.
In reflecting on the Neighborhood Table Talk, I recognized that these themes are not restricted to community building in a social setting. Many of the corporations that I consult with suffer with disintegrating internal cultures, characterized by polarized and narrow-minded attitudes, inadequate capacity for innovation and change, and diminishing employee engagement. They also feature physical environments and policy-driven protocols that do nothing to foster a positive, sustainable corporate community. These businesses could well learn the lessons from the Neighborhood Table Talk and provide the circumstances to encourage deliberate engagement and welcoming accessibility.