Introduction to Contribution
Every single person has capabilities, abilities and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capabilities can be used, abilities expressed and gifts given. If they are, the person will be valued, feel powerful and well-connected to the people around them. And the community around the person will be more powerful because of the contribution the person is making.
— A Basic Guide to ABCD Community Organizing, John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, 2013
An important part of building an inclusive community is the belief that every person has a contribution to make. An inclusive community is one where every person is seen to have equal value. The word contribution refers sharing, giving or providing something of value to others. It’s important to recognize that we all have valuable things to contribute.
Every one of us is needed for our communities to reach their full capacity and be vibrant, safe and enjoyable places to live. Regardless of gender, ethnic background, socio-economic level or abilities, in an inclusive community, each one of us has relationships with other people, feels accepted and appreciated, and is involved in community activities.
By working and learning with supportive friends, family, and personal support networks, we can all find opportunities to work, volunteer, create, inspire and make our full contribution to community.
We all have a responsibility to encourage and enable contribution. To start, we need to ensure that we appreciate and value the gifts that each of us bring. Recognizing our unique gifts and skills helps us build meaningful relationships with other people who care about the same things. These meaningful relationships then make possible new opportunities to contribute and become more involved.
Learn about the different kinds of contribution
Contributions of Doing
Contributions of doing include volunteering, working, playing music, performing in a dance group, looking after children, playing on a sports team and so on.
It is important to understand and focus our unique gifts, skills and interests, and then look for places in our communities where we can share and contribute. Our communities are full of welcoming places ready and waiting for us to show up and get involved.
Contributions of Being
These are contributions made by a person’s presence. Many people with disabilities offer friendship, loyalty, acceptance, caring, compassion, gratitude, inspiration and joy.
Related to the gift of presence is the gift of diversity or difference. Difference creates meaning and value. Can you imagine life with no differences, no diversity; a world where every person looked and thought the same and every day was exactly the same? If everyone and everything were the same, there would be no excitement, no mystery and no anticipation. We would not experience wonder or inspiration.
When we recognize and focus on our gifts, skills and interests and then collaborate with other people who share the same gifts, skills and interests, we can begin to make our unique contributions to our communities.
Discover our valued social roles
People have many valued experiences and roles. As we are in the process of finding our place in community, we need to think about discovering what valued social roles we can play. Some examples of valued social roles are: family member, friend, neighbor, citizen, athlete, partner, home owner, worker, learner and artist.
Social roles allow us to experience one or more of the valued experiences outlined below:
- Belonging: This means having the feeling of belonging through a variety of relationships and memberships.
- Choosing: This means choosing what you want in everyday situations in ways that reflect your highest purpose. You are aware of having the freedom, support, information and assistance to make the same choices as others of a similar age, and you recognize the possibility of learning to make wiser choices over time. You feel encouraged to use and strengthen your voice in the mode of communication you use, clarify what really matters, make thoughtful decisions and learn from experience.
- Contributing: You contribute to community by discovering, developing and giving your gifts, and by investing your capacities and energy in activities that make a positive difference to other people. Consider both gifts of being and gifts of doing.
- Sharing Ordinary Places: This means sharing places and activities with other citizens such as neighbours, classmates and co-workers. You are part of living, working, learning and playing confidently in ordinary community settings.
- Being Respected: You understand people have histories, capacities and futures that are worthy of attention, and that people’s gifts involve them in valued social roles.
Consider how contribution equals citizenship
When planning a good life for now and in the future, people commonly use phrases like “make a contribution”, “do something meaningful” and “make a difference”. Contributing to society, creating meaning and making a change for the better are at the heart of citizenship.
Inclusive communities believe contribution equals citizenship. Relationships are necessary to contribution and are part of citizenship. Personal support networks, through relationship building, help us focus on what we can contribute to our community. For more information about personal support networks, see the topic Personal Support Networks.
Explore groups to connect with in your community
At the heart of contribution is relationship, since it is through relationships that most of us make our contributions to the world. When we are not involved in our communities through relationships and participation, we cannot make our full contribution
Every community has a unique set of welcoming people and places that its members can collaborate with to create opportunities for contribution. There are five basic groups to consider:
- Individuals: Our communities are full of people who have skills, experiences, passions and capacities. Most people have a willingness and desire to contribute to the lives of those around them with assistance and friendship.
- Associations: These are small informal groups of people, such as clubs, working with a common interest. As volunteer groups, associations are important to community life and action.
- Institutions: These are groups generally made up of paid professionals and include government agencies, private businesses and schools. These institutions usually give the community access to assistance and resources.
- Physical Assets: Physical assets are places such as land, parks, halls and community centres that are used as gathering places to build relationships between people who enjoy common gifts and interests.
- Connections: There must be an exchange between people and community groups in order to create opportunities for contribution. Invitations and introductions are powerful tools in creating connections.
Identify opportunities to contribute and make a plan
It’s important to make a specific plan outlining opportunities to contribute to your community and listing the actions and steps required to make contribution happen. Opportunities could be festivals, art shows, open stage events, tree planting, park cleanups or many other activities.
Once you identify the opportunities, be sure to make a plan and follow through on it. By being deliberate and intentional, you are more likely to be successful, especially when you are just starting out.
Here are some initial steps to get you started:
- Celebrate your gifts: Recognize that everyone has gifts. Every person has unique gifts, skills and experiences that can be shared to create strong, connected communities. Sometimes gifts need to be discovered. Being together in friendships and relationships leads to exploring and nurturing people’s gifts.
- Connect with others who care about the same things you do: Look for other people who share the same gifts as you, and make a point to go where they are: art galleries, sports events, gyms, book clubs and so on. Being physically present–in the room, at the table, on the team and in the field–just being there is the first step.
- Build relationships: Relationships are built through shared interests and activities. When you have the opportunity to share your energy and perspective, to work with other members of the community towards a shared goal–to contribute–then connections are made and can be built on.
- Practice hospitality and offer to help out: Relationships build a community. Intentional effort to build and strengthen relationships is at the core of building a community that invites contributions from all its citizens. Say hello to people you recognize in your community and start conversations with them. Be bold, offer to help out, and ask for ways to become involved.
- Get involved in the life of the neighbourhood: Recognize that public spaces such as parks are important parts of a neighbourhood. Join a community garden or join a place-making initiative, which is an activity for community participation in the design of public spaces. By coming together to celebrate public spaces like parks and walkways, people have the opportunity to make community