Enhancing Belonging: A Guidebook for Individuals, Organizations, and Communities

Enhancing Belonging: A Guidebook for Individuals, Organizations and Communities
by The New Story Group of Waterloo Region

John Swinton writes, “To be included, you need to be present. To belong, you need to be missed.” While belonging must be felt to be experienced, there are indicators that can foster the realization of this deep human longing. A new resource, just released, goes beyond inclusion to offer very practical suggestions, themes and examples that provide a framework for the belonging experience.

Enhancing Belonging: A Guidebook for Individuals, Organizations, and Communities is the result of a project undertaken by the New Story Group of Waterloo Region in 2013. The group had been discussing inclusion but wanted to go deeper, to discover how and where belonging might occur for members of the community, especially those who are most susceptible to marginalization and exclusion. Led by four members, the Enhancing Belonging Team, the group wanted to provide a process and a resource to assist in creating the environment where belonging might more likely be achieved in community. Through engaging community, collaborating around emerging ideas and exploring stories, five indicators were identified that together provide the rich ground for the experience of belonging.

In the Enhancing Belonging guidebook these five interrelated themes are explored in depth to help the reader discover that a sense of belonging is more likely to be achieved when:

  • Community spaces are open, inviting and accessible.
  • People are welcomed and acknowledged
  • People can participate and contribute in ways that are personally meaningful.
  • There are opportunities to come together with others around common interests or goals.
  • Policies and practices work to create a culture that nurtures belonging.

Each of these themes are discussed, helpful strategies provided and examples given.

As well, there is a handy Belonging Strategy Checklist and additional resources listed at the back of the guide.

Enhancing Belonging is an important resource for individuals, groups, businesses and organizations who wish to intentionally pursue a community where All belong.


Click here to read Enhancing Belonging: A Guidebook for Individuals, Organizations and Communities


-Submitted by Roz Vincent-Haven


OIFN Resource of the Month – December

“What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone”

by Heather Plett

An attribute frequently associated with facilitation is “to make easy”, to help things be easier for someone. This can involve many ways of helping that are visible and concrete, while others  are subtler, such as the ability to “hold space” for another. In Heather Plett’s article she explores what this means through her experience of supporting her mother as she was dying. As Plett and her siblings were caring for their mom at home, they, in turn, were being “held” by a gifted palliative care nurse,  who provided  both practical and emotional support as, facilitator, coach, and guide… offering gentle, nonjudgmental help and guidance.”  Plett’s definition of “holding space” involves being:  “…willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on, without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

Plett notes that sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others and that everyone needs this support at times: “ Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.”

She also offers 8 very useful tips to keep in mind as we grow in our ability to hold space for others, that involve shared power, trust, not overwhelming the person, and offering guidance with humility and thoughtfulness. Plett emphasizes that this role is not limited to professionals: “ It is something that ALL of us can do for each other – for our partners, children, friends, neighbours, and even strangers who strike up conversations as we’re riding the bus to work.”

Regardless of our role in facilitation, there is much to reflect on and learn from Plett’s article.


Click here to read “What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone”


– Submitted by Susannah Joyce, Realizations Training & Resources


OIFN Resource of the Month – September

How Can I Help? Stories and Reflections on Service, edited by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1985

“We can, of course, help through all we do. But at the deepest level we help through who we are!”

There are so many things to consider in trying to be present with people as they explore  dreams and options for the life they most want … voice, power, rights, community, deep listening, creativity, respect, gifts, stories, relationships…all of these and many more are part of the picture. And because we are offering help…as facilitators, families and friends… the nature of how we help is foundational to our desire to make a difference.

How Can I Help? offers wonderful stories from people in a variety of helping professions, including doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy, peace activists, third world development workers and many others,  sharing what they have  learned about  “helpful help”  in Chapters entitled Natural Compassion;  Who’s  Helping?; Suffering; The Listening Mind; The Helping Prison; The Way of Social Action; Burnout; and Reprise: Walking Each Other Home.

How Can I Help? is a timeless and essential resource that inspires us  to stay true to the deepest meaning of our work. The book is available for purchase online at both Amazon and Chapters/Indigo in paper or as an e-book, for under 15.00

– Submitted by Susannah Joyce, Director, Realizations Training & Resources



Justice, Gifts and Beauty

Justice, Gifts and Beauty: those who bring naked vulnerability, offer a gift that can soothe a violent world. There is no guarantee that we will awaken, but the peaceful and just possibility awaits us.
Continue Reading →


Standing Alongside People as They Change

Judith McGill
Executive Director of Families for a Secure Future Ontario,  Canada
Adapted from the conference report, Reflections on Common Threads: Approaches and Contexts for Planning Everyday Lives

I would like to ask the reader to consider if you have undertaken a major change in your life over the past year, that didn’t concern a major purchase.

We sometimes mistakenly treat acquisition and consumptive behavior as change. It is not personal change, it is only a change in our material circumstances.

Real change is about reimagining what is possible in our lives, redefining ourselves, our relationships, and our identity. It is about realigning our priorities and most of all about acting differently.

As independent facilitators and planners of any kind, we can lose our way if we want to be seen as the instrument of change. Seen as the person whose task it is to bring about change– help set a course, define the goals–draw forth a vision/dream of what is possible.  We lose our way if we judge our worth by the changes we are privileged to witness and be part of.  We are lost if we insist on change. We cannot insist that people change–so that there is something to write about in the second quarter report.

Change does not operate that way.

Change is grueling. It takes initiative. It takes deliberate action.
It requires something of us on a daily basis.

It entails pushing past our fears and engaging our will. Moving forward.

My feet are my only carriage. My feet are my only carriage.  My feet are my only carriage.

Even making little changes, requires tremendous effort–sustaining effort.   We all know that. There is always the risk that we revert back and go back to the way it was.

As independent facilitators and planners, the system may want us to sell change–bring about change–work for change–enumerate certain changes but we must resist the temptation to expect change.  Change is a conscious decision to take a risk, to leave something behind and step into something new.  It often means stepping into a new role/embracing a new identity or way of being in the world.  For that to happen, for that to be rewarding and worthwhile something new needs to be activated not only within ourselves but also among the persons that love and care about us.

For years, I worked within the People First movement.  I witnessed some tremendous changes in people’s lives over time–transformative changes. I experienced it as ripening into change, that when people were inwardly prepared to act differently they did so. When their will got activated–they acted. This was sometimes with the support of others and sometimes alone.  It was sometimes with other’s blessings and sometimes against all odds and a form of resistance. For this change to be possible inwardly they needed to be emboldened, inspired by others. They needed to be witness to change, and have people who acted as models for change. They needed someone, at least one person that believed wholeheartedly in them.

I came away from the People First movement believing that we need to be careful to honour this process of “ripening into change” and not try to push or cajole people into change for the sake of change. We cannot change on behalf of another, it takes them to “will it” to happen. To decide to act differently and willfully for themselves.

Facilitators need to be aware of the careful balance between expecting change and supporting change.

We need to be a “stand for change” and a stand for people:
•    declaring what they need and want,
•    stating what has become unmanageable in their lives, thinking differently,
•    choosing to pursue a different storyline about what is possible.

We need to be a stand for others to remain open to discovering something new about themselves and finding their unique voice.

At the same time, we need to recognize that change has its own time. That people need many opportunities for trying change on, exploring the new situation, the new role, the new relationship, to see if it “fits” with who they are. People and their loved ones need to experiment with whether they will be able to sustain it.

People need time and support for adjusting their lives while they are working toward the new possibility.

As “story beings”, we need to carefully construct a new story about ourselves over time, in such a way that we feel transformed from the inside out, so that we own the new story.

We need to recognize that personal change requires us to consider others, engage others.  My change always necessitates that those around me change, adapt, reorder their pictures of what is possible, and ultimately stretch their imagination of who I am. I need people to be there for me when I stumble or if I fall. For me to sustain change I need to know that people are behind me, that they have my back.   Each of us asks the same questions when we take on change.  Who will be there for me? Where is the safe place for me to fall back into? Who believes in me?

When we formed Families for a Secure Future, an independent facilitation organization, we worked on the premise that for individuals to take on and fully embrace change, their families would also need to change.  Their families would also need to embrace and take part in that change. We believed from the outset that the wellbeing of the individuals and their families/loved ones were intricately and intimately linked.

For this reason, we created Family Groups so that parents and siblings and those that took on a family like relationship could come together to learn and grow with one another over time. So that in joining together they could co-inspire one another and hold the impulse for positive change among one another.  We began helping people to create support circles for the same reason. So that there would to an intentional context for considering and stepping into change, a “place” for change.

As an organization, we understood from the outset that there is a kind of reciprocity in change.   As you change, I also change. For change to be sustainable it needs to arise out of relationship.  Trusting relationships, where we know each other’s stories and how it has evolved over time.  Relationships where we tenderly hold each other’s dreams and vulnerabilities while choosing to act differently.
For this to be possible, independent facilitators need to acknowledge who is it that is really taking the risk to bring about change and who bears the consequences of the change.  We also need to ask who defines the pace and the nature of change?

As independent facilitators, we have the privilege to stand alongside people as they change, the change that they have willfully chosen.

We bear witness to these changes. We see how these changes bring about changes in everyone who is woven into that persons’ life.

We help people adjust to the newfound expectations and demands brought about by these changes and help them to consider their next steps day by day.  This takes a great deal of humility on our part, to be present to this kind of ripening, ripening into change.

Page 1 of 3 123