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Common Security Clubs: A new model for building community in times of economic crisis

   /   Dec 6th, 2010News

When people face overwhelming, frightening challenges they often seek comfort through support groups. From cancer to addiction, these groups help us understand disorienting events and foster community where there might otherwise be isolation. In 2009, at the height of the economic crisis, times were especially tough. Noticing a growing atmosphere of anger and fear around the Great Recession, workers at the Institute for Policy Studies and the online journal, On the Commons collaborated to form Common Security Clubs, meeting groups for people trying to make sense of the growing joblessness, lost savings and widespread economic insecurity.

Organizers created a six-session workshop and posted the details and instructions for facilitators online so that anyone anywhere could start a group. The workshop helps group members learn together about the crisis, assess needs and aid each other. By coming together to overcome their fears and anxieties, the organizers hope community members will grow stronger together and feel empowered and connected.

Andree Collier was a co-facilitator and now club member of one of the first Common Security Clubs, which started in a Unitarian church in Boston. About 20 members have been meeting once a month for a year-and-a-half to share a meal, learn about the economic meltdown and figure out how they could be helpful to each other. For Collier, the clubs are about community building.

“Personally, I feel we need to deal with people’s immediate crisis to reach them,” she said. “I think this is a good way to do it.”

In addition to providing emotional support, club members can provide economic support for each other by sharing and bartering for services and goods. Through Common Security Clubs, members have helped each other weatherize homes, shared vacations in borrowed cabins, created summer camps and exchanged items for work. In this way, the group members are figuring out what has value outside of money and affirming notions of self-sufficiency and collaboration.

While it’s hard to know exactly how many Common Security Clubs there are, as the materials online are free and open source, organizers know of over one hundred groups and it’s clear that interest is growing. They’ve hired a full-time staff person, Sarah Byrnes, to help organize and promote the clubs. This Wednesday December 8, Byrnes is hosting a online webinar on how to start a Common Security Club.

“We hope it gets bigger,” Byrnes said. “We have a lot of the pieces in place now, and are focusing on more outreach and more follow up to make it bigger and better.”

Byrnes thinks interest is still high because, although the recession is “technically” over, the unemployment rate rose last month and anxiety concerning joblessness is at record levels. Byrnes anticipates that the clubs will continue to be useful, as there is still need for people to come together and build resilience.

Photo: Common Security Clubs

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