TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – At a community summit Monday, about a hundred newly minted “Be the One” ambassadors brainstormed ways to build safe, stable, nurturing relationships throughout Tompkins County.
“Relationships are the key to building resilience,” said Jaydn McCune, program director for the Collaborative Solutions Network at Franziska Racker Centers. Decades of research show that safe, stable, nurturing relationships provide a buffer against the consequences of chronic stress and trauma. The “Be the One” campaign, spearheaded by McCune and partners across multiple organizations, is an effort to build resilience in the Tompkins community by fostering supportive relationships.
Sally Manning, who works with the Collaborative Solutions Network as the Single Point of Access coordinator for children and youth, opened Monday’s “Be the One” summit with a thought experiment.
“Imagine if everyone knew they had a safe, stable, nurturing relationship,” she said.
As attendees from teachers to social workers to faith leaders settled in, Manning invited them to look around. “Everyone in this room is probably the one for someone,” she said. “Being the one for someone is such a simple thing.”
Participants shared stories over the next few hours that demonstrated how being the one could be both simple and profound.
Devra Rivkin told the room about a momentous experience in her life: an arrest, without merit, that left her shivering in a jail cell, feeling famished and dehumanized. One officer took pity on her while she sat on the cell floor and passed an apple from her own lunch through the grate. That officer, a young black woman, was Rivkin’s one that day. Later, when the officer received a thank you note from Rivkin during a particularly grueling day of work, Rivkin was her one.
“That story, where you don’t even know the effect you’ll have on someone, has touched me for life,” Rivkin said.
Rivkin’s story was big. By her own telling, Margo Polikoff’s story was tiny.
Polikoff saw a young woman, a stranger, who appeared anxious as she headed into a health clinic. She was pacing in the foyer, hesitating at the door. “Is there anything I can do right now to help you?” Polikoff asked. “How about a hug?” Polikoff doesn’t know how the rest of the young woman’s day or week or year unfolded, but walking out of the clinic together, the woman said she felt no worse off than before that appointment.
“What’s really compelling about the ‘Be the One’ campaign for me,” Polikoff said, “is it’s really about everyone, it’s for all of us.”
A speaker suggested anyone could be the one by responding with empathy when people act out. Don’t ask, “What’s wrong with you?” she said. Instead, ask, “What happened to you? What was your experience? Where do we go from here?”
At tables across the room, small groups swapped stories of who their “one” is and whose “one” they are. Some supportive relationships had lasted years, while some began and ended in minutes. Some were formal, like those between teachers and students or Big and Little Brothers, while some developed organically between neighbors or teammates.
Groups shared out ideas for fostering more supportive relationships in schools, community organizations and faith communities. One table suggested creating a wall showcasing acts of kindness, and another suggested mailing thank you notes to people who have been the one and might not even realize it.
Since the “Be the One” campaign won a grant from the New York State Office of Mental Health in August, several ideas have already taken flight.
About 10,000 “Be the One” bracelets are making their way around the county. “We’re hoping that will inspire 10,000 conversations,” said McCune.
School districts, including Lansing and Dryden so far, have talked with campaign coordinators about starting community reads, writing assignments and art projects around building healthy relationships and resilience.
A choir recorded a “Be the One” theme song at Sunwood Recording Studios in Trumansburg, and has shared the sheet music, arranged by Stan Stewart and Alice Ploss, with music groups and classrooms throughout Tompkins.
Mayor Svante Myrick proclaimed 2019 the “Be the One year” in the City of Ithaca, with a statement touting the campaign’s efforts to “raise awareness about the importance of safe, stable, nurturing relationships as the foundation of individual and community-wide mental health and emotional and physical well-being for all persons regardless of age, race, disability, culture, creed, faith or socio-economic status.”
McCune said the campaign is currently in its first phase, focusing on outreach to schools, youth organizations and faith communities. There will be a second summit for community members in May, mental health awareness month, to generate ideas for spreading the message more widely.
“It’s a totally inclusive message,” said Nora Rucker, who is working on campaign outreach with the Collaborative Solutions Network. She said schools and community organizations already have the capacity for fostering relationships that build resilience. “The question is how do we equip all organizations with enough information that they can take it and make it their own?”
Featured image: An ensemble sings the “Be the One” theme song at the campaign launch summit. (Devon Magliozzi/The Ithaca Voice)