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What Does It Take to Build a Thriving Community?

This article was written by Dr. Sally Fox and published on the 3rd Act Magazine. With Sally’s permission, we are honored to post an excerpt here.


Over the past 10 months, I participated in three story-filled events sponsored by the Thriving Communities Initiative out of Whidbey Island. As a group of participants from diverse races, backgrounds, and ages, we explored what it takes to build healthy, sustainable communities.


Story Bridge, a team that facilitates social transformation through story, led the first day of each event. After leading warmup exercises, Story Bridge facilitators gave us our assignment: to share our individual stories and create “a play in a day.” We were each to tell a personal story, and then, in groups, select eight to develop and perform before a live audience at 7 that evening.


Working against the clock, we bonded as a group. Differences in experience and background were no barrier to connection. Strangers quickly became friends.

I listened as former gang members, tribal leaders, grandmothers, and activists etched their stories into my heart. I discovered that once I’ve deeply witnessed someone’s story, I’ll always carry it in me.

Thriving Communities includes movement, story and song at its events to encourage safety and openness among participants. As we danced, shared stories, and sang, we readied ourselves to tackle tough topics such as the disastrous impact of gentrification on Seattle’s historically black neighborhoods. As difficult as that subject was, I felt hope as we all joined in a rousing rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, often called the Black National Anthem.


Thriving Communities was created in 2011 on Whidbey Island to explore what can happen with “common people doing uncommon work for the common good.” Jerry Millhon, 77, a member of the founding team, wanted the world to know about the innovative practices he observed on Whidbey Island, where people regularly stepped up to address challenges that concerned them, such as poverty and food inequity.


Millhon believes you build a thriving community by starting where you are. In times past, when people stayed in one place most of their lives or lived close to kin, it wasn’t hard to find a community of place. Today we may need to take initiatives to find a community.


If you want a more thriving community in your life, try these ideas:

  • Connect to where you are.

  • Walk around.

  • Share stories

  • Sing! Move! Dance!

  • Contribute.

To learn more about these ideas, please read the entire article on page 56 of the 3rd Act Magazine: https://issuu.com/3rdactmagazine/docs/3rdact_summer2018?e=24210266/62417152.


Graphic recording of a Story Bridge and Thriving Communities gathering in Seattle, WA. Credit: Anne Jess.