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In a World of Change, Place Anchors Us: How SPS Supports Communities




It's clear that our relationship with "place" is evolving in this interconnected world, and its impact on our lives and the communities we serve is profound. Strategic Prevention Solutions works with many different communities across the United States. While our home office is located in Juneau, Alaska, we have staff located as far Northwest as Fairbanks, Alaska, as Southeast as Florida, and from California to Kentucky! While we do have static office locations, we have worked remotely since our company’s inception in 2011 and even have one staff member who’s “vanlifing” and can be found working from her Starlink anywhere in the US!

 

SPS takes “place” very seriously and incorporates the context of the community we work in into every project we do. Read on for some of the thoughts we shared in our recent Critical Consciousness Corner session (our quarterly professional development session to talk all about relevant social issues and how it applies to our work)!


Look at the most vulnerable people in your community & that will tell you how the rest of your community is doing. – Wendi Siebold, President of Strategic Prevention Solutions

The Current State of Place

Communities & Place: Communities and their physical locations have a symbiotic relationship. A community is shaped by the environment it resides in and, in turn, affects the place it calls home. Factors such as geographic accessibility, housing availability, environmental conditions, and economic disparities play a crucial role in the services provided to a community. Internet connectivity and cell coverage also vary from place to place, which can significantly impact the accessibility of services.


Cultural Significance: Some communities have sacred places deeply embedded in their culture. Relocating from these places, whether by choice or due to external forces, can result in a disconnection from a vital part of their identity. Native cultures, in particular, are intricately tied to the land, influencing everything from clothing to food and songs. When individuals are uprooted from their 'place,' it poses a profound challenge in healing and reconnecting with their roots.


Health Implications: Place has a direct impact on our health. Environmental factors can influence epigenetic modifications, and a lack of social connection can lead to increased rates of suicidality, especially among older generations. The intersection of various identities and systems of power, such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, can further exacerbate disparities in health and well-being.

 

Nomadic Populations: It's essential to recognize that communities are not limited to those with permanent homes. Many of the social service agencies we work with have clients who are houseless, transient due to experiencing factors like domestic violence or seasonal work or have been displaced from their homes due to wildfires or other factors. This makes it crucial to acknowledge the stories of those without permanent residences in our work.

 

Assessing Community Health: “Are your youth alive & well? Are elders alive & well or are they dying at rates that are not normal? Look at the most vulnerable people in your community & that will tell you how the rest of your community is doing.” – Wendi Siebold, President of Strategic Prevention Solutions


In this era of change and uncertainty, it's essential to consider our responsibility to the places we reside in or impact.

A Look Toward the Future

Our communities are changing rapidly due to globalization, technology, and the consequences of the COVID global pandemic.


Technological Evolution: As technology advances, our concept of "place" is transforming. We no longer interact with just a location's physical or natural features, but rather with the technological overlay on top of that place that can sometimes be completely divorced from physical reality.  For instance, living in a place that reaches 120 degrees in the summer, but sitting in an airconditioned 65 degrees. As AR technology improves, we may soon look through glasses that add features to our landscape as we walk around it.


Migration: We’ve already seen big changes in population movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Large cities are losing population while smaller towns’ population is increasing. Changing infrastructure demands may reshape communities as we know them in terms of physical structure and also community identity.


Community changes due to climate change: Climate change is redefining geographical boundaries, necessitating relocation in some cases as some island nations may completely disappear due to sea level rises. One example of how our work intersects with climate change is our collaboration with a remote Alaskan village, working on a strategic plan to relocate buildings in their community as they combat coastal erosion while maintaining community collaboration throughout the process.


Digital Places: In addition to physical locations, we now exist in digital 'places.' Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are expanding the possibilities for communities and experiences. These innovations offer unique opportunities for connection and community building.


Diverse Community Models: There's a growing diversity in how we approach life, land ownership, and community. Network state communities, intentional communities, DAOs, co-housing, online communities, online gaming, events like Burning Man, and even seasteading all exemplify the evolving ways people come together and create their societies with unique rules and ways of operating.

 

Responsibility to Place: In this era of change and uncertainty, it's essential to consider our responsibility to the places we reside in or impact. Whether it's adhering to "leave no trace" principles for nomadic lifestyles, acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land, or being thoughtful in where we locate factories or roads in proximity to people. Our actions now can have a profound impact on the well-being of a place and its people for generations to come.



Our commitment to supporting communities extends beyond understanding the challenges they face; we actively support local agencies in building protective factors that promote community health and well-being.


SPS' Role in Building Community

Community Connection: SPS recognizes the importance of fostering and maintaining community connections. This involves understanding how external influences can disrupt these connections and finding ways to strengthen them. Community health assessments, including physical and mental health evaluations, play a vital role in this process.


Community Engagement: Engaging with the community is at the core of our approach. Listening to the community's needs and concerns is paramount. We ask questions like, "What pulls our community together? What breaks our community apart?" By understanding these dynamics, we can develop strategies to build strong, resilient communities.


In-Person Interaction: When possible, we prefer to engage with communities in person. Face-to-face interaction allows us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the community's unique characteristics and dynamics. We also work to address biases, consult with local partners, and review community data.


Climate and Infrastructure: In our assessments, we recognize the changing dynamics of a community, considering the impacts of climate change and the demands it places on existing infrastructure. Analyzing census data helps us identify these shifting trends.


Protective Factors: Our commitment to supporting communities extends beyond understanding the challenges they face; we actively support local agencies in building protective factors that promote community health and well-being. An excellent example of our collaborative efforts is our project with the community of Homer, Alaska, known as "Meet Your Neighbor Month." Our role was to support the local agency not only in rolling out this program, but also building their capacity to measure the effectiveness of these efforts in various ways. By empowering communities to assess and understand the impact of such programs, we help them recognize the value of fostering connections and healthy relationships as essential protective factors. This, in turn, allows us to work hand in hand with communities to fortify the elements that contribute to their overall health and resilience.


Recognizing the Role of "Place" in Our Lives

In a world of evolving relationships with place and an increasingly interconnected global society, it's essential to recognize the profound impact of "place" on our lives. Community, whether traditional or digital, plays a crucial role in our well-being and sense of identity.


As we move forward, we must embrace our responsibility to the places we call home, considering our impact on the land, its people, and its natural resources. By understanding the complexities of place and its effects on community health, we can work together to build strong and resilient communities that stand the test of time.

 



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