How to create community
In the past month, two of my dear friends who don’t know each other, one from Milwaukee and one from here in Tennessee have come to me and personally thanked me for the community I’ve created for them. They sang praises of gratitude. Their words where so comforting to hear and truly affirmed my gifts. It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve received and it really got me thinking, how do we create community when we are new in town?
I love people, I love community and I need community in order to thrive. I’ve become passionate about creating it , not just for myself but also for others too.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, everyone needs community. I wasn’t always the hostess with the mostess, I wasn’t always the most “outgoing” person. When I first moved to Milwaukee back in 2005, it was hard to make friends. It took 4 years until Tony and I truly felt that we had a good community of friends that we felt that we could rely on. We definitely had a hard time finding where we fit in. We didn’t fit in with the young people our own age, young college kids in their early 20s. And we felt like a lot of the “older” couples at our church, older meaning adults now married and out of college, couldn’t relate to us for whatever reason. It was often a season of loneliness, but at least we had each other. I made a conscious decision to go out and make friends instead of becoming bitter and frustrated.
What I discovered was that if I wanted a community I would need to go out and create it.
Truly, it can be hard to be the new person in town, and even harder when you are an adult, out of school, to make instant friends. Where do you meet people, how do you find your tribe?
Wherever I am, wherever I live, I need to find my tribe and then love them deeply. After being in Milwaukee for 11 years I had an amazing tribe. So many amazing friends! And the best part was I never wanted to be exclusive, all of my friends knew each other and eventually became friends as well. I left my community in Milwaukee, but they now have each other, and my friend was telling me how grateful she is for this, and this made my heart so happy.
Being the new girl in town isn’t easy. Being the new Midwestern girl in a southern town is well, interesting. There is definitely a cultural difference and with no southern accent you stick out like a sore thumb. Our farm mentor Jeff the barefoot farmer told me to, “just start talking in a southern accent, you’ll fit in more” Ha, he’s definitely on to something. And I don’t mind if I do, I love the southern accent.
Overall, trying to make friends this time around and being new in town has gone much faster. We’ve been here two years already and I already have an amazing community of friends. But it didn’t come easy. I had to work for it. Everyone here in the south is super nice. It’s definitely not like the east coast or the Midwest where people don’t dare make eye contact. They often walk down the street and pass you by uncomfortably in this weird awkwardness and EVERYONE stares down at the sidewalk. Ha, don’t get me wrong not everyone is like this in the north, but let’s be real here, the northerners can come off a bit shall we say “shy.” More introverted for sure! It’s rare to walk down the sidewalk and people actually say “hi or good morning, how are you?”
The South is totally different, everyone says “hello” or “hi” People love to talk, they’ll talk your ear off if you let them, and at first you can’t understand much of it, if you don’t have a ear for the southern drawl and their funny phrases. Southerners, they love to get up in your business and make the dreaded uncomfortable eye contact. Ha! It’s so different. But it’s also very refreshing having come from an environment that is the complete opposite.
But just like the Midwest, creating community isn’t easy. It was promising at first. I made an effort to reach out to a local church to get connected with some local moms, and this was super helpful. I was connected with a local mom named Heather and I’ll be forever grateful for her because she is how I got connected with my friend Emily. Heather was a girl who had the talent of creating community for her tribe! She posted on Facebook saying that we needed help unloading our moving truck. We are complete strangers and new to this town and people went out of their way to welcome and help us. This was truly a warm southern welcome. Emily saw the post on Facebook and decided to stop over and welcome us to the neighborhood and we quickly became friends. I was truly grateful for this because we had just left all our friends, moved across many states, to a new home, in a new town, Pepper was battling whopping cough and we knew nobody! Having Emily as a resource, even if for the first few weeks, it was just someone to talk to over Facebook messenger was a real blessing.
After being here a year though I was frustrated. I felt like I had really made a big effort to connect with the people in my church we had been attending, and some other moms who had kids Pepper’s age, but my community I so wanted and desired….it just wasn’t really happening. I felt like Pepper hadn’t really made many friends with kids her own age right in our own town. I had made an effort to try plan things with other moms and their kids for Pepper’s sake but it was hard to get anyone to commit to anything. And the friends we did make through the WILD + FREE community all lived pretty far away from us. I desired local friendships, friends just right down the road for her and myself. Maybe it was because we were the outsiders and everyone already had their tribe of people? I don’t know what it was but I decided this….
…you can’t wait for community to come to you, you have to create it!
And even though I had gone out of my way to create community, I really had only made friends through the homeschooling community and not as much through my church. Which made me sad. I wanted friends at church for myself and for Pepper. I wanted to fellowship with friends.
The thing is not everyone is good at “welcoming” new comers. I often think that we all get busy with life and we are busy doing things in our own bubble and we forget to look around and notice those who may be hurting or in need of community, in need of a friend, in need of a welcoming smile, or a invitation to coffee or dinner. We all do it. I do it, too. Life is busy and we are all stuck up in our own heads and problems that we forget to notice those around us in our community that need friends, that need to feel INCLUDED. So instead of being angry and frustrated I decided to make an even BIGGER effort to create the community and the tribe that I desired, and that I think others desired as well.
So you want community? Go out and create it:
So here is what I’ve learned. If you want community, you have to create it, you have to seek it out, you have to find it. You cannot rely on others to create it for you and you can’t blame others for not welcoming you to their community, as I said before we often forget just how lonely it is to be the “new” person, especially if we ourselves have never experienced being the “new person” in town. So when you are the new person you have to be willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to make new friends, meet new people, and foster amazing relationships. It may not be your natural born gifts, but if you want something bad enough you will put forth the effort, hone in on the skills needed to make it happen, and just do it.
How do you find & create community:
One of the most amazing tools for creating community has been Facebook. It’s a great way to find people of like mindedness in your own town. Even though sometimes I truly hate Facebook and social media, I’ve come to accept that it’s a necessary evil. It’s amazing how you can use it to find your tribe but also stay in touch with all your amazing friends who are now 10 hours away! As soon as we placed an offer on our house I immediately joined a bunch of Facebook groups in order to get connected with the local church people, the local homeschooling community and the local moms of the area who are more “naturally minded” like me. While Facebook is an amazing tool for community it’s not as easy to make “real life” friends online. For this you need to actually go to community events! Don’t be afraid to get involved. Join a Bible study, a fitness club, a church. Go to art classes, or anything you are interested in. Get online and search and seek out the events your community has going on and get involved in them. As soon as we got here we immediately started going to church, going to church events, going to Wild + FREE homeschooling meet ups. All the things. We immediately started to immerse ourselves into the community and the culture.
I also started hosting and creating events at our house. Some have been major flops with no shows, which has been disheartening, but others have become great successes. I just decided not to give up. We met some of our neighbors by hosting an Easter BBQ a few months after we moved here. I’m so grateful I did this because I was able to gain many amazing friendships through this one event, one person, our neighbor Terry couldn’t make it, but he dropped off cake and cupcakes from the local bakery for the event. I mean how kind, who does that? “I can’t come but here are some cupcakes!” That was one of the kindest gestures ever! After that BBQ he’s grown into one of my most favorite persons! He truly is the BEST neighbor anyone could ask for. I’ve also hosted health themed DIY classes for our homeschooling community, child book club events, playdates & educationally themed meet-ups for the local moms and kids. Just over a year ago this month I started a “crazy ladies book club” and it has been the most fun, most rewarding experience yet.
So there are lots of ways to create community and grow in friendships and meet like minded folk. But you have to put forth effort and seek it out. Friendships won’t happen overnight, you have to be patient. But you do have to work at it. And if you don’t feel comfortable hosting events at your home and “playing hostess” that is totally fine. Find public spaces for local meet ups and events. We often meet up at local parks or waterfalls for hikes with the kids, or a coffee shop is great too! It doesn’t need to be at your house, but someone has to organize it. If there is no one to organize, then the events simply won’t happen. Why not be the person to organize events? If there is a need for community in your area, then you can bet your dollar, the people will come.
Don’t be exclusive:
There is nothing worse then making a new friend, connecting with them, starting a relationship and then feeling left out as you see all the “things” they are doing on Facebook with their “tribe” of people. They didn’t think to invite the “new” girl to come along and meet all their friends. It’s sort of like being back in elementary school and having no place to sit and eat lunch because you’re new and everyone already has their friend groups. Adults feel this too, trust me. So if you meet someone new and you really jive with them, stop and think to yourself, “they are new, they are probably lonely, I should invite them to meet my friends and to one of my “friend” outings.” I know all too well what this feels like, and because I know what it feels like I’ve made a conscious effort to go out of my way to NEVER be EXCLUSIVE. This is why all my friends in Milwaukee have each other, they are all connected. I never had “exclusive” groups, ever. I always welcomed all my friends. My friends who had kids, didn’t have kids, maybe where older in age then me or younger…didn’t matter. They all know each other, and they are all also friends. I’ve always made an effort to never be exclusive but rather to always include everyone. I’ve done the same here in Tennessee. When we host events at our house for the home-school community I invite our Wild + FREE community as well as our local Mom’s group. I really try my hardest to not be exclusive. I host a monthly book club and I’m constantly inviting new friends, and telling my friends who come, “hey, if you know of someone who needs this group, please invite them!”
Does this mean you have to invite your whole town to every single event you host, haha of course not! But you get what I’m saying right? Of course you have the “bestie” you do lots of stuff with one on one, everyone does. But next time you’re going out to dinner with your girls, think of that “new” girl you just met, give her a ring and ask if she wants to come with your and meet some of your friends.
Don’t lose hope:
It takes time to find your tribe and then LOVE them deeply. It also takes a long time, 2-3 years I would say, before you feel like the new town is your home. So I would encourage you if you’re new in town, don’t lose hope. Keep plugging away. Keep trying to understand the new culture that you are in, immerse yourself in it and try to fit in. Be welcoming, kind and friendly to everyone. Make conversation with random strangers. Smile, wave & say hello. You never know what people are going through, and a “hello, how are you doing?” can really make a world of a difference for someone. You also never know who you are going to meet when you are out and about. Be open to new experiences and become a part of your new community. No one ever made any friends sitting, sulking and wallowing at home.
Like all things in life if you want it badly enough you gotta get off your butt and go out and make it happen. So go out and create a community for yourself. Find your tribe of people and love them deeply!
Peace out & lots of love,
Are you new to the Middle TN area and a Homeschooling Mama?
Here are some quick links to some of my favorite Facebook groups:
Crunchy Parents of Middle Tennessee
Not in Middle TN? Find a WILD + FREE group near you here!