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Mayor's Message: The importance of belonging in a thriving community

Red Deer mayor Ken Johnston believes belonging is fundamental for a thriving community
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston. (Advocate file photo)

Hello Red Deerians, as the Mayor of Red Deer, I have had the distinct privilege of witnessing firsthand the incredible impact that a sense of belonging can have on our community. Belonging is more than just feeling like a part of something; it is a fundamental human need that, when fulfilled, can lead to profound personal and communal benefits. Today, I want to talk about the importance of belonging, the role that community associations and volunteering play in fostering this feeling, and the positive impacts it has on our mental health, overall well-being, and the quality of life in our city.

Belonging is a deep-seated need that transcends age, culture, and background. It is about feeling accepted, valued, and included in a community. When we belong, we feel connected to those around us, and this connection forms the foundation of a supportive and resilient society. A sense of belonging can provide individuals with a safety net, offering emotional and social support that is crucial for navigating life's challenges.

Community associations are at the heart of fostering belonging. These organizations create spaces where people can come together, share common interests, and build lasting relationships. It’s the reason why I declared 2024 the Year of the Community Association. In Red Deer, our community associations organize events, activities, and programs that bring residents together, creating opportunities for connection and collaboration.

Another example is our local sports teams. They not only promote physical activity but also encourage social interaction among participants. Similarly, our cultural and arts programs offer platforms for individuals to bond over shared passions, fostering teamwork and camaraderie. These groups provide a sense of identity and purpose, helping individuals feel rooted in their community.

Carolyn and I recently participated in the year end closing ceremony and awards for the Army, Air Force and Sea Cadets. What terrific organizations fostering belonging and opportunity to our city youth!

Volunteering is another powerful avenue for fostering belonging. When individuals give their time and energy to help others, they not only contribute to the community but also develop a deeper connection to it. Volunteering offers a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and it allows people to meet others who share their values and interests.

Our local mentorship programs, community support initiatives, and various volunteer-driven events rely on the dedication of volunteers to make a difference. These programs provide guidance, support, and resources to those in need, helping them build resilience and a sense of belonging. Volunteers become role models and sources of inspiration, demonstrating the positive impact that active participation can have on both individuals and the community as a whole.

The benefits of belonging extend far beyond social connections. Numerous studies have shown that a strong sense of belonging is linked to improved mental health and overall well-being. When individuals feel connected to their community, they experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The emotional support provided by a close-knit community can act as a buffer against life's challenges, promoting mental resilience and stability.

In Red Deer, community support groups and wellness programs highlight the importance of community in mental health. By bringing people together to share their stories and experiences, we create an environment where individuals feel understood and valued. This sense of belonging can be a lifeline for those struggling with mental health issues, providing them with the encouragement and support they need to thrive.

A community where everyone feels like they belong is a community that thrives. When individuals feel connected and valued, they are more likely to contribute positively to their surroundings. This collective sense of belonging enhances the overall quality of life in a city, creating a vibrant and supportive environment for all residents.

Additionally, a strong sense of belonging fosters community pride. When people feel proud of their community, they are more likely to take an active role in its development and upkeep. This can lead to cleaner, safer, and more attractive neighborhoods, as well as increased civic engagement and participation. In Red Deer, we have seen how community pride can stimulate residents to come together for initiatives like neighborhood clean-ups, public art projects, and local festivals, further strengthening our communal bonds.

The positive effects of belonging extend beyond the individual and the community. A city where residents feel a strong sense of belonging is more likely to attract new residents, businesses, and investments. The welcoming and inclusive atmosphere created by a connected community can enhance the city's reputation, making it a desirable place to live, work, and visit.

As we look to the future, it is essential to continue fostering a sense of belonging in Red Deer. By supporting community associations, encouraging volunteerism, and promoting inclusive initiatives, we can build a city where everyone feels valued and connected. This, in turn, will lead to a healthier, happier, and more prosperous community for all.

Loneliness has become an epidemic in our country. Belonging is its strongest antidote. The positive impacts on mental health, overall well-being, and quality of life are profound, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone. I am committed to continuing our efforts to foster belonging and build a community where everyone feels at home. Together, we can ensure that Red Deer remains a place where each resident is valued, connected, and proud to call home.

Ken Johnston is the Mayor of Red Deer.