My friend Mary Nations shared a video recently that really captured me. She included it in a post about an innovative program at the Southside Regional Jail in Emporia, VA. When you watch the video, you’ll see a program that deserves to be in all correctional institutions. You’ll also see an example of the benefits that a community can bring to its members and to its host institution. There are two versions of the Community Model video created by the Center for Therapeutic Justice5 minutes and 20 minutes.

What’s going on in the Community Model? Do you see similarities to association membership, maybe not membership as you know it now, but membership as it could be?

  • These prisoners volunteered to join this community. They’re ready for change.
  • They’re bettering themselves – growing and evolving. These are life-changing experiences.
  • They support each other while learning together.
  • They listen to each other.
  • They come from diverse backgrounds and often have differing viewpoints, but they deal with it. Everyone has a voice.
  • They relish being part of something positive. They’re watching their community get stronger because of their own efforts.
  • They sometimes fail, but they accept that. They learn from their failures and figure out their own solutions.
  • The senior members mentor the newer members. They help each other work out issues.
  • Members, not staff, are the leaders and group facilitators.
  • They’re a “self-regulating community that supports the growth of its members and makes a positive impact on the institution.”

This is a community of growth that provides a meaningful experience and value to its members — a model not only for jails and prisons, but also for associations.

Our associations provide a platform for the growth of meaningful communities. Some of our members already work together to further the mission of our organizations – to help make changes in society or in the legislature, to provide educational opportunities or to help each others’ businesses thrive.

Think about the benefits of being part of a vibrant community:

  • Satisfaction from helping others or serving an industry
  • Stretching one’s skills – managing projects, public speaking, recruiting, mentoring, building teams, delegating, writing, teaching, running meetings
  • Widening one’s networks and developing new relationships, both personal and professional
  • Belonging to something good

How many of our members truly feel they’re part of a meaningful community and derive value from the community that they can’t find elsewhere? Is it only those who serve on committees or the board? Those who are in the leadership clique? Those who can meet face-to-face? How can we help all our members grow and participate in their own communities – online, face-to-face or both?

Think about communities in your life that you cherish, perhaps it’s a mastermind group, church community, social media club, coffee group or book club. What makes it so meaningful to you? Let’s become community gardeners – providing the rich soil and nourishment that will help our member communities take root and grow.

The long version of the video ends with this quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted.” We all know this. It’s time to experiment with new ways of associating, building community, working together, leading together. New ways of associating have the potential to not only benefit our members but also to give meaning and value to association membership.

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