The importance of community

August 5, 2011

One of my emotions after being laid off was sadness over the loss of community. I felt like I had been banished from a community where I had worked for five and a half years. During my first interview, I found myself continuing to say “we” when discussing my former job. No. You are no longer “we.” “We” is now “they.”

The very pleasant surprise, though, has been watching my personal community grow bigger and stronger. I have reconnected with old friends. I have established new friendships. And already-good relationships with family and friends have become even better.

I never imagined how vital my laptop would become to my daily existence. The obvious reason is its connection to potential jobs and employers via boards and e-mail. But equally important and unexpected has been my laptop’s role in preventing me from feeling isolated. Facebook in particular has been a lifeline.

No matter how bad my day has been, I can count on visiting my alumni group page on Facebook and feeling joy about being part of one of the most amazing groups of people I will ever meet. And I continue to be touched by the emotional support of some members, checking up on me via personal notes, etc. I was especially happy this past April when several new, and old, connections congregated in Columbus. Five classmates and I gathered for pizza one rainy Saturday evening and it was such a satisfying reunion and meal. This is community at its best.

One afternoon, a member of my alumni group on Facebook asked something to this effect: What are you doing now, job-wise? It made me pause. I wrote about what I HAD done. At some point, a classmate confessed that he was recently unemployed. Within the hour, I bravely typed, “Like ____, I, too, am unemployed.” It was easily the most difficult sentence I have ever typed.


(Courtesy of Stephanie Dudgeon)

The following day, I received a Facebook friend request. From my fellow unemployed classmate. It made me smile. I happily accepted.

My most important community, though, has been family. I have the most amazingly generous, loving and supportive family in the world. Parents. Sister. Brother-in-law. Cousins. Niece. Nephew. I have received many supportive e-mails, telephone calls, and text messages. And financial support when I desperately needed it.

I wouldn’t have survived the past five months without the amazing family and friends I have. Their individual acts of kindness and generosity would fill a separate blog. As counterintuitive as this may sound, I have never felt luckier.

All of which has made me wonder how unemployed people lacking such a rich community have been coping. Aside from the financial ramifications, how have such people been surviving emotionally? What have been the mental health ramifications? How has the economic downturn affected all of our communities? What will be the long-term social and political effects on our country?

Stephanie Dudgeon, a 48-year-old former project manager from Columbus, Ohio, has been unemployed for five months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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