The story of Project C.U.R.E. is the story of community. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the U.S. president during the formative years of my life – ages twelve to twenty. In those years following World War II and the Korean conflict, he used to remind us, “This world of ours . . . must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” I grew up believing in the virtue of community.
The word community is derived from the joining of two Latin ideas: com= with/together- and munus=gift . . . the gift of being together. Indeed, community is a gift! Elements affecting the identity of a particular community could include: beliefs, resources, intentions, needs, preferences, risk levels, and common emotional connections.
Wherever community exists, security and freedom will more than likely be found as well. Community has a way of taking on a life of its own, and that seems to allow people to become free enough to share and secure enough to get along. There is a sense of connectedness that often flows as a result of community, that has the power to dispel loneliness and to nurture the mutual respect and trust referred to by President Eisenhower.
To me, community is evidence enough that love, respect, and civility can exist in a world of disconnectedness and greed. Fighting each other or ignoring each other are not the only two options available to cohabiters of this earth: love, respect, goodness and civility are also viable options.
While traveling around the world for the past nearly forty years, I have fallen in love with the people of the old cultures and the old world communities. President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, used to say, “While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.” In older European communities neighbors have been required to live in close proximity for a long time.
I loved to travel in the cities of Belgrade, or Kiev, or in the countries of Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, or Armenia. At night people love to get out of their homes, put on clean clothes, and go to the downtown centers to walk, visit, and stop at the sidewalk cafes, to have coffee and maybe some ice cream. I have strolled with them and socialized with their neighbors until nearly midnight. There were some unusual and compelling factors of community displayed in those parts of the world that were wholesome and inviting. Most of the towns were eagerly at work trying to revitalize their cities and municipal regions. They were hardy, and at the same time willing to return attention, love, and appreciation.
I used to say to Anna Marie that if she ever looked and found me missing she could probably safely start looking for me in Brazil, because I had a real affinity for the country and people of Brazil. But now I don’t know. The beauty, the flowers, the inexpensive personal economy including food, transportation, and utilities, the fresh fruit and relatively mild winters, and the endearing people of community … it all just might have you looking for me in some classical, historic home on a small acreage near the Black Sea.
I am so glad, however, that I have lived long enough to experience the advent of the internet. It is adding a whole new and different dimension to community. No longer is the geographical neighborhood, or the leisurely stroll in the evening in Belgrade, the dominating factor regarding community. Now I can Skype or write computer messages to thousands of my friends every week. I can send those messages to homes, offices, and phones completely around the world and my friends can respond back to me as quickly as if we were sitting together over a cup of coffee. As we freely communicate with each other, we successfully form a virtual community that fulfills the same community functions of beliefs, resources, intentions, needs, preferences, risk levels, and common emotional connections utilized in traditional community.
There is one more exciting aspect of community that I would like to explore here. Sociologist, Ray Oldenburg wrote a book entitled The Great Good Place. It speaks to the recognized phenomenon that Western cultures seem to be losing the citizen involvement in traditional community. In another book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Putnam, 2000) underscores that position by writing that in the past 25 years attendance at club meetings has fallen 58% , family dinners are down 33 percent, and having friends visit has fallen 45 percent). It may be that we are in danger of losing the spirit of community that once existed in some of our institutions, including churches and community centers.
Oldenburg suggests that we really need three places: the home, the office, and third, a gathering place of community. Starbucks, for example, was founded to fulfill the need for the “third place.” The experiment has proven overwhelmingly successful. I believe that in a very unique way Project C.U.R.E. has become an example of a “third place” expressly for community. I believe that is one reason why we have 15,000 volunteers rather than 125 volunteers. True community exists and is experienced by the faithful volunteers of Project C.U.R.E.
I am excited to think that in the future Project C.U.R.E. could become a dynamic center for purposeful community all over the U.S. and around the world where people would gather to not only enjoy a steaming latte or a good cup of chai, but to meet with friends and associates to build community around a common goal of goodness specifically aimed at delivering health and hope to needy friends all around thecommunity of the world.