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Building A Sense of Community In Your Town

Source: Lynette Flage, NDSU Extension Community Leadership Specialist

Build a Sense of Community in Your Town

Rural North Dakota communities have experienced a disruption of their roots in the past 20 years as young adults migrate to urban areas, leaving an aging population in rural areas.

Fewer people are left to sustain the community economically, socially and civically. Challenges are abundant for rural communities as they work to sustain themselves, and growth often seems impossible.

For many people, though, rural communities are the ideal place to live and raise a family. These communities are an essential part of the nation’s landscape and are home to 21 percent of the people in the U.S.

People locate to rural areas because of a preference for a safe, friendly, family-focused routine associated with a small-town way of life. These shared values illustrate a strong sense of community and can be promoted as quality-of-life incentives to bring people back to, as well as keep them in, North Dakota.

Communities, whether urban or rural, are made up of people working together to improve the situation in which they live. Individuals are involved in their neighborhoods, schools and businesses and may feel a stronger sense of belonging and community connection. Residents may have a shared sense of identity or community, which is a concept that focuses on the experience of community rather than its actual structure.

Within a sense of community, people have a feeling of belonging, a feeling that residents matter to each other, and that their needs will be met just by being committed to each other and to their community. Sense of community describes overall community support, even though members may not always have personal relationships with each other.

Sense of community can be used as a means for social involvement and participation in the community that eventually may lead to increased social capital for that town. Social capital is all about networks and connections with others, as well as the trust among those in the networks. Social capital describes what can arise from these networks when people do things for each other and add value to the quality of life of individuals in a community.

Social capital takes many different forms. It can be the neighbor down the street who knows all of the children and is willing to help out in an emergency. Social capital can be the local police officer who coaches Little League, or a group of volunteers who come together each year to organize a Relay for Life event. In fact, this powerful connector can be the local women’s church group or the families in a local 4-H club. Whenever people come together, building relationships of trust or networking to get things done, social capital is at work improving the community.

You have many things you can do to increase the sense of community and social capital in your town. Here are a few suggestions:

·        Say hello when you see an acquaintance in a local store.

·        Invite a new resident to your home for dinner.

·        Attend a public meeting.

·        Support your local merchants.

·        Attend a local parade, celebration, event or other program.

·        Give to your local food bank.

·        Involve youth and young adults in community activities and give them opportunities for input and influence.


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