Today I am attempting to define the word community in a single post.
Hold the applause, please?
The North Park Nature Center is many things for many people. A preserve, a place that houses learning and educational development, a park within the city of Chicago, a forty-six-acre lot that holds about four different ecosystems.
That’s what you’ll hear from those that work or manage the Center. However, for the visitors, it’s quite apparent that this preserve holds a lot more than just deer. Here’s what a few people I’ve spoken to have to say:
“This is the most beautiful spot I’ve ever been too!”
“Coming here has been a family tradition for us for many years!”
“This is my escape. This is where I find healing, love, and support.”
“The Nature Center is my home away from home. It’s my church.”
“You guys do a fantastic job with this place, I love it more and more everytime I come!”
Those are just a few of the thousands of compliments I get to hear, from visitors all the time. Now I have always loved this place and I have begun to challenge myself to ask why?
My list of reasons can go on, but a few are the people, the visitors, the warm and friendly atmosphere, the classes, the natural beauty that surrounds this place, etc. So as I began to ask different people why they enjoyed coming here, I was very surprised by their answers. Why?
They were all like mine.
Perhaps some were different and maybe some people were facing different things in their life, but they all came because this Nature Center makes them feel like they belong.
A sense of belonging is one of the most powerful things a person can feel. It creates a sense of meaning and contentment in their lives and lets them know that they matter. That’s what this place has always been about and it interlinks with everything else we do here.
We create a sense of belonging to the children by educating them about the world around them. We teach them to be aware of all the beautiful things happening in the natural world around them and this fosters a sense of belonging in their world. When the staff offer to help the visitors with something they need, this makes people feel like their opinions and thoughts are respected. I can tell you, as a volunteer myself, that this impact is huge!
So this leads me to the topic of my post: community. What is a community? Is it a thing, a person, a place, a definition?
If you ask Google, it states that a community is a noun that means, “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common,” and, “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
That sounds powerful. And I believe that’s exactly what the North Park Nature Center is. It’s a group of people who have common goals, attitudes, and interests towards housing awareness of nature. Now let’s think about that word common.
Common goals can actually be brought about by different thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. The one goal is the education of nature, but it is brought about by many different ways. That’s what keeps the center unique and exciting. It’s also what keeps people coming back.
On the flip side, however, besides being unique, we are also a place that remains the same in many things. We have so many awesome volunteers and people who help bring about exciting programs, but we also try to keep some things that people enjoy.
For instance, our pre-k’s cover many of the same topics. We hold the same festivals every year, we also keep popular programs like Monarch Palooza around. Why? I’m sure the staff could tell you a much bigger reason, but I believe it’s the for the simple reason that, the people love it, so we keep doing it.
So as diverse and unique as this preserve is, it also holds a sense of security for me. I naturally like routine. Well, maybe not routine, but I like to know what’s going on so I can get the most out of my day.
When I’m here volunteering, I feel that sense of belonging. I feel like I’m participating in a much bigger cause than I probably even understand. I also have way too much fun tagging butterflies and talking about bees.
I enjoy that sense of belonging that you get when you walk up the steps to that wooden little house. The warm hug I get from my friends upon entering the office. The smiles of joy on the kid’s faces when their waving goodbye, after learning another awesome nature fact. I also enjoy the fact of knowing that despite all the crazy things that happen in our world, this little preserve will always be there for me. Sometimes no change is the best change of all.
So to conclude, that’s what I believe makes up this Nature Center. I think it’s what people want to see, it’s what keeps them coming back, and it’s what leads to lasting relationships.
The two words that I challenge you to ponder upon are community and connections.
But are the two really different after all?