Step 2: Find the Venue or Connection Point
Once the change agent has identified the positive capacities for inclusion or incorporation, the next critical step is to find the place that the person, idea, or product will relate. Quite simply, finding the setting where the person, idea, or product might be accepted sets the stage for inclusion and cultural shifting.
By “venue” or “connection point,” we are referring to the viable marketplace for the person, idea, or product. With ideas or products the change agent can think in the conventional framework of a marketplace. That is, if you have developed a product that is best suited for accountants, your potential marketplace would be with the fiscal offices of a corporation or with an accounting firm. These or similar marketplaces offer the best possibility that your product will be understood and, hopefully, purchased.
With people, the concepts of venue and connection point have equal importance. If you are looking to find a framework of new friends, you have a much better chance of connection if you take a hobby, passion, or capacity and join up with others who share that same passion. A good example is the efforts we make with our children when we attempt to broaden their horizon.
In a more formal way, this step works with agencies that attempt to connect people back to community. One example from our agency is the story of David. Al first met David while working years ago at our local county home for the aged. One of our first efforts was to help David begin to meet people and make new friends. Using the capacity model portrayed in step 1, we identified a number of things David enjoyed or had an interest in. One of these passions for David was oldies music. While at the facility, David listened regularly to oldies music on the radio. After he moved into his own apartment, we identified an oldies club not far from where he lived. This venue offered a good starting point for David because he had a natural affinity for the same common theme, which attracted others together.
The secret to step 2 is to find the appropriate venue that matches the interest or positive points of the individual. In many cases, this is anthropological work. We know that people gather for all kinds of reasons, but the most powerful reason is to celebrate that which they share. Finding the matching community for the interest is critical to meeting new friends and, possibly, changing the culture. In David’s example, finding the oldies club was a direct match to his interest in oldies. Often we have to look closely, but the process accelerates by asking people who might know. In David’s situation, we called the local oldies radio station to inquire. The resources are out there; we just have to find them.
One powerful strategy in Step 2 is found with the website www.meetup.com. Some of you reading this book might be familiar with this social networking website, but, if not, it offers a wonderful and easy way to find a community-based venue that matches the interest. When you log onto meetup.com, you will first be prompted to identify what country you want to search. As you know, the Internet has created a “global community,” and so there are meetup groups all over the world. Once you identify the country, you are prompted to identify a postal or zip code. This allows the meetup search engine to hone directly into your community.
Last, you then have a search bar to enter in a “keyword” that identifies your interest, passion, or affinity. When you hit the “enter” button, the search engine will display every club, group, or association that is registered with meetup in a geographical order starting with those groups closest to your zip or postal code. If this is not enough, the listings of groups are further developed with information about the groups’ patterns and expectations, and meetup even identifies some club members and offers their email addresses so you can connect electronically.
Now, one caution about step 2 must be addressed when applying the steps of cultural shifting to people, especially newcomers who have been excluded. The existing members of community may not see or understand the relevance for people who have been traditionally excluded. For example, people with disabilities have been historically separated from typical populations. Given this historic sense of congregation, the natural tendency, even for professionals in human services, is to keep these same people congregated. That is, if we discover in a capacity exploration from step 1, that our friend David loves the oldies, a natural propensity might be to see if there are other people with disabilities who like the oldies and then put them together. How many times do you see groups of people with disabilities doing the same thing together? This phenomenon is evident in our stadiums or theaters that have “handicap sections” where all folks with disabilities are herded to watch the game or show.
Even when we find the appropriate natural community venue, the energy to congregate people might unfold. An experience a few years back drove this home for us. CLASS was assisting a friend to connect in the community. Using step 1, we discovered that Jim had an interest in swimming. To build on this we went to step 2 and explored Jim’s community to find a swimming venue. We decided on the local YMCA near Jim’s home. When Jim and Al went to the YMCA to get him a membership and find out more about the swimming options, the membership director pulled Al aside. Using a soft voice so that Jim wouldn’t hear, he told Al that he could arrange for the agency to have the pool all to itself every other Tuesday evening. This way we could bring all the handicapped people we like and they could swim together. Even the YMCA membership director thought about people with disabilities in a congregative manner.
The bold fact of all these experiences is that people gather. They gather for all kinds of reasons and interests. For every capacity or passion there is a place that people gather to celebrate these passions. Once we get over our habits of segregation and congregation we can come to see that these places are ones that offer a wonderful starting point to culture. In these gathering places we can find the key to cultural shifting and the dispensing of social capital and currency.