How to build a community

Dana Roller

October 13, 2022
How to build a community

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyday life, people with disabilities are facing strains on their mental and emotional health at even higher levels than pre-pandemic times. This, in addition to an increase in remote work has led to social and professional isolation. Currently, there are several studies being conducted to explore the impact of these factors on mental health within the disability community. These studies demonstrated that people with disabilities are experiencing depression and anxiety at high levels. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities reported higher levels of social isolation than their nondisabled counterparts, however, the pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. While worrying, these results provide important insights into potential strategies that can help reduce the isolation faced by adults with disabilities in America.

What is a community?

A community can be a group of people who share your hobbies or cause, friends you enjoy working with, or a group of professionals to network with. Or a community might be made up of many single people who don't know each other but think of them as each part of your community, i.e., each community as a central hub that attracts people with the same interests.

Why is having a community so important?

Because mental disorders are known to be one of the major burdens of disability, it’s important to take care of and grow your social and professional communities to their fullest extent.

Experiencing these hardships can lead to mental health overstrain and even feelings of defeat, however with the right social and professional community, you can be in a significantly better position. For example, support groups can be extremely helpful forums for building social and/or professional communities. Because these are groups specifically for people with disabilities, they are uniquely able to understand the pressures and inequities associated with everyday life. Providing accessible mental health and physical care for persons with disabilities should be a key priority in reducing their mental health burdens

A member of our Spanish language spinal cord injury support group, Joaquin, states, “the support group has given me a sense of community and support during the pandemic which has been so isolating. Through the group I have met people with similar disabilities that I can relate to. Many of them have become true friends. The group is like family.”

How do you know if you’re lacking the right community?

If you’re wondering whether you have a good support system, chances are you don’t. When you start asking yourself if you’re missing something or don’t have enough support, a part of you already knows the answer. If you feel isolated or alone, it can be comforting to surround yourself with people who love you, support you, and care for you. For some people, the family, and friends they already have are enough. But if you’re feeling like no one can understand or relate to how you’re feeling, then you shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting more.  You may want to bring new people into your support network if you find that you need more people in your life to support you, or if you lack people in areas that are important to you. Different people in your life can provide different support, so it's unlikely that one person can give you all the support you need. For example, you may have good emotional support, but you may want to meet more people who share your hobbies and interests. It's not about meeting one specific person who shares all your interests, but about opening up to different people who have similar interests.    

How can you create a good social community?

Try to engage in the things you like doing and finding people you want to spend time with will follow. For example, like-minded people might be members of your church, interested in sports, or active supporters of a particular political party. The main goal is that you will meet other people with similar passions to add to your support network. Understanding what's important to you can help you find ways to connect with other like-minded people. If you want to stay active and are looking for motivated and inspiring people to connect with your support network, joining one of our exercise classes would be a great place to start.

If you need to create your own support system, there are sure to be like-minded people in your community. While you may recognize the importance of a support system, building a network of health and support staff might still sound easier said than done. However, a good social support system doesn’t require many friends and relatives. Focus on the people that you enjoy and can help get you where you want to go. Creating a working network is equally as important to your wellbeing.

Creating a Professional Network

Because the pandemic meant that most of us started working remotely, it became even harder to grow your professional network. A few ways to get back to meeting new professionals include:

Join an Affiliate Group

A great way to build your professional network is to join an affiliate group. Affinity groups or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a group of people with common interests or goals and are especially important to bringing together employees with similar interests, backgrounds, and goals. Although the common model is designed for employees, the purpose remains the same and these affiliate/support groups include some of the following:

Build a LinkedIn Community

Start by reaching out to people in companies you have worked in or want to work in. This will allow you to connect with a variety of people who belong to fields like your own.  Check to see if they have groups within that company that also reflect your needs (e.g., employees from company X who also enjoy Star Wars).

Connect with Your Alma Mater

When linking with people on LinkedIn, pay particular attention to reaching out to people who attended your alma mater. This can be a great way to start introductions because of the common background and the varied fields that people will have entered after university. You can also connect with people from your alma mater on Facebook.

Virtual Networking Events

Another method is to sign up for virtual networking events that appeal to your field of work or ambitions. On Eventbrite there are plenty of different events where you can find talks on topics and professions, you’re interested in. You can also be added to an email list after the fact to be kept up to date on future events.

Facebook Groups

Facebook has several community groups dedicated to people with disabilities.  You can choose a group based on your area (e.g., Spinal Cord Injury and USA) or based on your interests (e.g., Romance readers).  

It takes time and effort to find a group of people that you enjoy and where you feel you belong, but it will be well worth it in the end. Creating a strong and supportive community is essential to your wellbeing and here at Disability Partnerships, we want everyone to have the space to build these communities.

That’s why we hold accessible online exercise classes and support groups every week. People who participate in these weekly classes not only strengthen their bodies, but also their social connections by meeting persons with similar experiences and goals. The right community of like-minded people doesn't just provide mental and emotional support, but it’s also crucial to creating new business leads. That's why finding a community of like-minded people is so important to one’s overall health and success.  Don’t forget to join our mental health and wellness classes.  You can access the information and register for the classes on our website at www.disabilitypartnerships.org/events.

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