Building Connections & Strengthening Community
AS PART OF THE senior professional team at Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS), my role in our community isn’t just a job – it’s an opportunity to feed my soul. That’s why the JFFS mission, to care for people in need and strengthen the Jewish community, is one that I take to heart each and every day. And that’s why I especially love summers here in Orange County, since I’m able to, essentially, take my daughter to work when she attends the Merage JCC’s Camp Haverim right on same Samueli Campus as my office. Nothing makes me happier than running into her on the campus when I head downstairs to get a latte at the Blueberry Hill Café and she’s off to her next camp activity. And, on the commute from north OC, we get the chance to have extensive conversations about myriad topics from Bob Marley to toll roads to why donuts are fried and not baked. Nearly six-year-olds have a lot of questions.
Even though Tess attended camp last summer, in her short lifespan, it feels like decades ago. So she was understandably a little nervous about coming down to Irvine and making friends at camp. Fast forward to when I picked her up from the JCC’s Myers Theater after her second exhaustingly fun camp day and brought her upstairs to the JFFS offices for a snack before the car ride home. We crossed paths with my colleague Stephanie Epstein who asked Tess how she’s doing at camp and if she’s making new friends. To my delight, Tess excitedly told Stephanie that she has a new friend named Dalia. Since there aren’t exactly a lot of kids named Dalia around here, Stephanie immediately surmised that she must be the daughter of Debra Kushon, one of our JFFS Shalom Family committee members. Within minutes, Stephanie was connecting Debra and me on Facebook Messenger. The next day, Debra and I met up on Main Street, the central plaza in the JCC, and talked about planning a play date for the girls. Not only is this great for Tess to have found a friend at camp, it’s also great for Dalia who came home ecstatic to find a “new best friend at camp”. And, of course, Debra and I have found a new mom friend in one another.
On the surface, I know it might seem like this experience was “just” about kids and camp and making friends. But if you think about it more deeply, this story exemplifies fostering connections. Studies have shown that a key factor in finding true happiness is one’s relationships. Close and quality relationships – whether romantic, with family, or with friends – make us happier and healthier, contributing to overall well-being and extending our life expectancy.
When we all take a moment to connect people to one another, we better our lives and our community. Because connection is essential to our culture. And, in building connections between people, we are strengthening our community. My co-worker Stephanie did that – and we can all play a part each and every day. We can take a moment to think if there’s someone in our personal or professional networks with whom to set up a single friend, and then make an email introduction. We can encourage our children to reach out to others who seem shy or alone. We can volunteer to bring meals to an isolated senior or drive a person with disabilities to a social engagement or medical appointment. We have, within each one of us, the power to strengthen our community by growing connections amongst one another.
Caron Berkley is a senior staff member of Jewish Federation & Family Services.