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    Modern Urban Reality:
    The Importance of Belonging to a Community

    By Brenda Kohlmyer

    This April, the Room Nine Community School in Shoreline, Washington lost a parent. He didn't gradually stop coming to PTSA meetings or claim he was too busy at work to participate in school functions. He didn't drift into parental absenteeism or move to another city. His family lost him because of an industrial accident while he was at work.

    As many close-knit communities do when a member passes, the parents at the school will support his wife every way they can. It will be a generous outpouring, but we know it will not be enough to fill the huge void blasted in the family's lives.

    Still, as Kym, or any newly single parent, moves into this next phase of her life, the support will be there, and that is important. She will have offers of babysitting and shopping help. Someone will volunteer to mow her lawn and wash the car. We will bring food for dinner in the early weeks so she doesn't have to cook for her family when she gets home from work and is simply too numb to function.

    In smaller towns it's often taken for granted that neighbors will bring meals to grieving families, but Shoreline sits on Seattle's northern border, squarely in the middle of the Puget Sound's densest population. It is an established bedroom community where new homes are being dropped singly into pockets behind older homes and residents have long commutes to jobs in Seattle, Everett, or Redmond. There is no guarantee that neighbors will know one another and it's entirely possible that the family four doors down will hear neighborhood news, both good and bad, days or weeks or months after the fact. If at all.

    This is a modern urban reality.

    Still, there are opportunities to establish and maintain community connections. That is what's happening at Room Nine Community School. Parents and teachers at this choice public school make a concerted effort to include every member of the community. From the time a child is enrolled at the K-8 school, parents are embraced as valuable members in the educational process.

    Part of the agreement going in is that parents will be expected at, rather than invited to, monthly Community Meetings held as part of the PIE/PTSA. That simple expectation, that every parent is part of the school, rather than adjunct to the teaching staff, pays dividends in community support during times of crisis.

    As single parents, it is important to seek out and become active members of this type of community, whether at a school, religious organization, sports league or the local community center. By being participants, not necessarily leaders, but simply regular participants, we add ties to our lives and the lives of our children. We teach our children that connection is a two-way street and that something as simple as preparing a second casserole when we're cooking dinner can help another family walk through extraordinarily difficult times.

    Especially at times when a newly single parent is facing a future raising his or her children completely alone, it is important to extend an offering that shows that it is possible to stay connected to the community, even though you are single with kids and house payments and car payments and a job.

    This week my kids and I will have Shepherd's Pie for dinner. We'll make a double batch and bake it in separate pans. The meal we take to the school will include that second pan of Shepherd's Pie, sliced cucumber and tomato salad, a loaf of French bread and a large plate of brownies.

    It is simple comfort food that will be only one of many contributions from teachers, fellow parents and students at the school. Our support will never fill the void left by a beloved father, husband and friend, but it will reinforce the bonds of community so at least one newly single parent family will not be left completely alone.

    And this too is modern urban reality.




    Be A Community Member

    One of the keys to becoming part of a community is finding organizations that embrace everyone in the community. Look for organized groups that include both adults and children so you can bring your family to "your" stuff and you can be included in "their" stuff. Groups that allow you to meet and mingle with other parents during meetings and open opportunities to get together outside of meetings for play dates and family outings are also important.

  • Churches, snyagogues and mosques with single parent support groups
  • YMCAs
  • School PTA or PIE/PTSA
  • Hiking clubs
  • Sailing clubs
  • Railroading clubs
  • Bike clubs
  • Sports teams. Be the team parent and you'll meet everyone, guaranteed!