Keys to Civility
The foundation of any community is the quality of its relationships and levels of trust between people and across its institutions. Building relationships and increasing levels of trust is the cornerstone to the community improvement process. In order to do this, communities must engage in civil behavior and dialogue.
We have urged you to take advantage of everyday opportunities to foster relationships between citizens and institutional leaders. Now let’s discuss the creation of large-scale community relationships. This happens either through new events, planned specifically to build relationships, or by building onto an existing major event that involves many people through the community. Here are two examples:
Example #1: The Progressive Dinner
Jim Betts, Senior Director of Franchise Recruitment and Development for Domino's Pizza
speaks with a fellow participant at the national gathering
Getting young people and adults to engage with each other is a real challenge. One successful idea, which met the needs of everyone involved, resulted from a student/adult workshop facilitated by a high school. It was a progressive dinner, open to any student in the high school, which eventually grew to an annual event that involved 800 to 1,000 students and adults. For the adults, it was a great opportunity to do something with their kids. The students enjoyed a fun evening of eating, talking, dancing, being with their friends—and interacting with adults.
For adults, the activity began long before the night of the dinner. A diverse planning group of parents and school staff located 36 homes to serve the first three courses of the meal. Each home needed four adults to help; the planners encouraged the hosts to invite parents of their kid’s friends. Surprisingly, many of the parents didn’t know each other well.
Planners asked teachers and their spouses or friends to ride the “big yellow limos”—school buses—with the students as chaperones. (They also invited the drivers to bring spouses.) At each destination, parents served the food, and they also participated in the three-hour party that capped the evening.
Planners made a special effort to pair together adults who didn’t know each other. As the number of parents, school staff, bus drivers, police, and other adults topped 300, the opportunities for relationship building were many.
The event also ensured that students would meet new people. Students were only allowed to make reservations in groups of six or less. Each group was coupled randomly with others to form a “yellow limo” party of 40 to 50 students. The students spent the first three courses of the dinner, or the first half of the night, in these party groups. At the end of the third course all students, and the adults who had helped, came together for a combined party—where many of the adults danced alongside their kids.
The event produced much more than a fun evening. It encouraged adults to hold home parties for the young people, and it left students thinking it wasn’t so dumb to have adults around. New relationships formed at all levels of involvement. New activities were planned around the same type of concept, reaching many more parents and students. The culture between the parents and school also changed; they became partners committed to interacting with each other. After the success of this large event, anything seemed possible. The capacity to confront problems concerning young adults increased dramatically.
Example #2: The Pig Out
A small community was looking for an event that would bring people to its downtown area. Residents decided that the thing they did best was eat, so they designed an activity built around food and local entertainment. Hogs were in plentiful supply, so they named the event the “Pig Out.” This culinary and musical event has now grown into an annual bash that attracts thousands of people and features top national performers. It is a major undertaking to organize the four-day event, requiring work by hundreds of people in and around the community as official planners or as volunteers who park cars, serve food, or staff the entertainment area.
The Pig Out was not designed to foster communication and strengthen relationships among citizens and organizations, but those have become valuable by-products. Often, volunteers work side by side with people they don’t know. A bank president may work alongside someone who normally serves on the front line of a local factory; everyone pitches in where he or she is needed.
Community members did not truly appreciate the value of the Pig Out until a major economic crisis hit the town. Within one week, two major corporations closed their doors and a third of the town’s workers lost their jobs. The community pulled together to recruit a new employer. Today, the town is growing and employment rates are high. But people realize that if they hadn’t been able to work and sacrifice together, the community could have faced a far different fate. Residents credit the networks, relationships, and trust cultivated by the Pig Out with enabling them to survive and prosper.
Why wait for a crisis to happen to build relationships? If they are already in place, you can confront any challenge.