Remember the ABC television series Lost? Don’t worry; I won’t attempt to explain the entire 121 episodes here, but I do want to touch on an important nugget of truth that the show emphasized. If a television program ever had a strong central thesis Lost did, and it’s this: true redemption can only be found through community, cooperation and togetherness.
What does this have to do with those of us not stranded on an enchanted island, living ordinary lives right here in Northeast Florida? Well, for starters, it’s not a bad philosophy to live by. If you’re feeling emotionally adrift or down in the dumps, simply connecting with others and influencing your community will do wonders for your mood.
Several recent studies have shown that one indicator of true happiness is the ability for individuals to stay connected to community activities throughout their lives. Whether you define “community” as your neighborhood or your workplace or city, the opportunities for getting involved are endless: volunteer at your child’s school, join a choir or a band, start a non-profit agency, join the One Spark volunteer force or a river cleanup crew. Feeling that you have the power to shape your community can have an amazing impact on your personal well-being.
To understand how engaging in community affects overall happiness and personal success, I talked to several folks on the First Coast who have invested their time, love and energy into our communities. From boosting energy to achieving redemption, community involvement has profoundly enhanced the inner lives of these North Floridians.
According to Swamp Radio Creator and Producer Ian Mairs, “Preserving people’s experiences of living in this place and this time (through our podcast and live Swamp Radio shows) gives me context for my own life. It’s like a group of artists are all standing in my path saying ‘look over there at this really cool stuff I have found.’”
Jacksonville filmmaker Frank Goodin says, “when I engage the community on any scale, it improves my life because I’m helping to make my hometown a better place to live. Whether engaging through large scale endeavors like my documentary The 904, or smaller scale endeavors like working with youth or serving on topical panel discussions, it all helps make Jacksonville a better city for us all.”
“A community that is actively engaged in fellowship is safer, healthier and stronger,” says City Council Candidate Jesse Wilson. “Engaged communities provide citizens with a sense of pride and belonging.”
Artist, musician and University of North Florida Professor Mark Ari explains, “Community energizes and inspires me. It increases my sense of possibilities. It lifts my spirits. And if I can do those things or help them to happen for others, holy crap, I want to do that. Besides, without others, who would I have to laugh with?”
Tim Gilmore is the author of many works that prominently feature the communities of this region, both past and present, including This Kind of City: Ghost Stories and Psychological Landscapes. He says, “Instead of waiting for something interesting to come knock on my door, I go looking for it, and I write about it. There’s always some building I don’t know enough about, some story, some secret. Plenty of people complain that Jacksonville has little to offer. I could do that too. But I’d rather go out and find the city’s stories and share them with anyone who wants to read them.”
When I asked Jim Alabiso, President and CEO of the nonprofit group Jumping Fish, if getting involved in community work affected him at a deeper level he answered with a resounding “yes.” He said, “On a very personal level … I can tell you, yes, it did have a profound change, yes, it did increase confidence and, yes, there is redemption.”