(Photo courtesy of Danielle Grosse)
Invited: Using Your Distinct Impact
By Danielle Grosse
Gunnison, Colorado – elevation 7,703 – is home to the highest elevation four-year university in the United States, Western Colorado University. It is also the coldest spot in the nation, and locals brag of surviving -50F nights in January. This valley’s frigid temperatures are epic, but so is the environment of isolation.
Depression and anxiety are common mental health conditions associated with lacking a sense of belonging. Both can lead to emotions and behaviors that interfere with our ability to connect with others, creating a cycle of events that further weakens a sense of belonging.
So how do we break through the barriers? It may feel overwhelming, and many times we question, “How can I make a difference?” The answer is more promising and less complicated than what we may think.
We can create a sense of community when we combine our unique interests, our distinct identities, and invite others to join us.
Jermaine Rodney, an IT specialist at Western University, is from Jamaica. He used his unique identity and love of cooking to create a fun and healthy place for people to belong, a sweet frozen yogurt and coffee shop named Jermaine’s.
His adventure began in early 2015, when he attended a panel discussion with high school students expressing how the City of Gunnison could help with the high number of suicides. The statistics from the city representatives were very alarming, as they showed in one year, more than nine students had been lost to suicide. The student panel expressed there was nothing to do in the small mountain community in the evenings. With nowhere to go throughout the winter, depression took hold of Gunnison’s youth. Jermaine explained:
Hearing this, I wanted to help. I actively researched what would fit the affected demographic and created a business plan.
After much research, I invested in 8 frozen yogurt machines, coffee equipment, and a full kitchen. I created a safe, welcoming, and engaging environment. I wanted to make place to bridge the gap between community members, college and high school students.”
Jermaine created an atmosphere full of the warmth of Jamaica in an ice-cold location. On paper, a frozen yogurt shop in the coldest spot in the lower 48, had as much chance of success as a Jamaican bobsled team making the Olympics. However, his success was actually a product of his distinct identity.
The bright orange, lime green, and purple accents in the building reflect “irie,” a life philosophy he brought from home. In Jamican, it means, “in spite of my circumstances, I have life, therefore I have everything.” His good-natured hospitality continues to serve tourists, locals, and most importantly, the youth of Gunnison.
We are all positioned to engage others by simply identifying our distinct interests and turning them into space for others to belong.
It may be easier than what we initially think. The things that make you who you are include your talents. What would you talk about all day if no one else got bored? There may be many things we hide from ourselves and the outside world because we are afraid to admit it is a relevant ingredient to who we are. Maybe a secret passion for writing poetry, designing projects, or simply listening to music will be a way to build a bridge to someone experiencing painful isolation. Still hesitant? Here are a few ideas to get your thought process started.
A foodie? Chopped Competitions in your kitchen.
Artist? Pictionary Tournaments at your house
Engineer? Lego Masters
Musician? Open Mic
The beauty of this is, you already know what people with the same life-loves will find engaging. By setting up a consistent date and time, planning, and inviting friends, you can create something for others to look forward to every month. As your foundation builds, get the word out, and start asking people other than your regular peeps to join.
And finally, just have fun while you make a difference! We all need a place to belong. We may act like we are looking for a warm cup of Jamaican coffee at 40 below zero, but honestly what we all seek is somewhere that fills our need to simply be our authentic selves.