Gratitude and Appreciation cycle
To open our discussion, it’s helpful to note that gratitude and appreciation energize many separate stages of program development and community building. The following diagram illustrates them. It takes the form of a cycle, moving clockwise; however, the cycle’s order is adaptable and can be varied according to a particular situation. From our perspective, starting the process on the top of the diagram, with an authentic welcome of all participants – including residents, volunteers, employees, and funders – is a good place to begin.
By using the cycle in the diagram as a framework, and moving clockwise around it from the top, here is what these program stages might look like in actual community practice:
-When people come to your program, welcome them! Whether there are two people or twenty, welcome them. Listen to them; listen to their ideas and experience; learn from them. Acknowledge the value of their experience. Allow yourself to be influenced by the people you are serving in community. When people feel welcome, they are more likely to return; and they may bring their friends. (We elaborate on the power of welcoming later on in this section.)
-As people start to engage in your program’s activities, recognize and appreciate their efforts and skills. Acknowledge the abilities and perspectives they bring to your program. This also means being open to learning how your participants might engage in activities differently than you. Include a variety of approaches and experiences. Try something new. Be gracious in observing differences.
-Appreciate and be guided by the cultural dynamics of the community you serve. This means being sensitive to the seasons, foods, events, and resources available in your community at various times of the year. Learn from the people around you. Adapt your own approach to reflect the interests, resources, and aptitudes of your program participants, volunteers, funders, and other stakeholders.
-Engage in both planned and spontaneous acts of recognition and appreciation for what you have achieved together after several weeks or months of meetings. In addition, you can incorporate both formal and informal acts of gratitude and appreciation for each other, for your program, or for something that you share. Such actions can occur regularly, and become part of your program’s normal operation.
-As participants start to become more comfortable with each other, and problem areas come up, innovate. Do something different. Keep getting participant feedback, and then create something to delight or surprise someone, somewhere. Take a small risk in addressing a priority of the group. Evaluate the results. Modify as needed. Do it again.
-Invite both planned and spontaneous feedback. After your program has been operating for a while, evaluate and assess how things have been going, where you have gotten to, and where you are going next. Use Appreciative Inquiry and ask, for example, “What did you enjoy about this activity?”, or “What surprised you when we tried this…?” (See more details on Appreciative Inquiry in a supplement to this section under Tools.) Ask other important questions about your project. If you wish to influence your group, allow them to influence you.
-Give thanks for the opportunities your program has enjoyed – such as the opportunities of getting to know each other and learning together; the opportunities of embarking on new adventures and having new experiences together; the opportunities to be safe and comfortable together.
-Celebrate, with awards or other kinds of recognition for the expertise and successes you have gained individually and collectively. Your celebrations can be as formal as giving out engraved certificates, or as informal as a pizza party or meeting in a new spot. People almost always like to be recognized, whether in large ways or small. Invite a sister or brother program to come and join you. Share some highlights or challenges as you build partnerships. Go on a group outing to discover a new community resource or place of interest. Share your discoveries together.
With this overview as a background, let’s continue to identify some other specific ways you as a community builder can use and apply gratitude and appreciation in your own community work. Some of these strategies focus on times when you are already familiar with the community setting and well integrated within it. At other times, though, you may be a relative newcomer, or just starting out. We’ll consider both types of situations.
You can refer to this: