Early last month at an SCA Board of Directors retreat, the facilitator opened with an ice breaker in which small groups had to identify things they all had in common but were not observable and then identify something unique to one member. Some of the things groups found they have in common include owning pets, enjoying the outdoors, and desiring fitness. And some of the unique things include being a pilot, working in a circus, and being born in another country. This exercise helped us get to know each other better and bond over some of our similarities while appreciating the unique experiences of others.
A few days later in a different setting and conversation, the other person said to me, “It’s funny how Shepherd’s Centers always say they are different from one another, but they really aren’t so different.” Immediately, I wanted to say that we take pride in the uniqueness of each center because each is developed based on the needs of the community and interests of older adults. But before I could blurt this out, the person continued, “They have the same mission, operate under the same values, struggle with the same issues, and have impact in their communities.”
She was right. We do have many similarities, both observable and unobservable.
I wonder, do we overemphasize our differences instead of the things that connect us as a network? Center sizes vary greatly: budgets of $10,000 and budgets of $500,000+; 250 people attending AIL and 1,400 people attending AIL; 660 one-way rides provided and 15,000+ one-way rides provided. And center services vary: friendly visiting, handy helpers, tech buddies, food delivery, Medicare counseling, tax-aide, intergenerational programs, education and referral. But these differences don’t define a center’s success.
If you put Shepherd’s Center folks in a room, even a virtual Zoom room, it doesn’t take long for the similarities to come out—a desire to connect older adults to things that matter in life, passion for service, impact in the community, the inclusion of all people and all faiths, recognizing the contributions older adults continuously make, empowerment, and most especially, relationships with others.
Engaging in this work to create meaningful social connections to community for healthier, happy living is what brings us together. It’s our inherent interconnectivity to our shared mission. Maybe, focusing on what we have in common and not emphasizing our differences would strengthen our network and individual centers so we all achieve greater success.
The next time you are with a Shepherd’s Center group of diverse individuals, see if you can make a list of all of the things you have in common. It likely won’t take long to realize that you have many more similarities than differences.