Art, Science and Community Connections

By Vickie Cammack


Our connectedness to one and other is often what is best about being human.

PLAN began over 25 years ago with what was then a radical view – the limitations of services to provide a good life. We understood that loneliness was the most difficult poverty experienced by people with disabilities. We were committed to find ways to address it.

At the time I had just read ‘Twelve Weeks in Spring’ by June Calwood. In the book she tells the true story of neighbours who banded together to help their friend die at home. At the same time we were learning about gifts and community assets from John McKnight. And I was inspired by the Joshua Committee created to support Judith Snow, a woman with a massive intellect and profound physical challenges. Marsha Forrest, the driving force behind the Joshua Committee, famously responded with a single word to an interviewer who asked her what people with disabilities needed to be able to do to have said meaningful relationships. “Breathe,” she said.

Judith’s life and teaching were seminal to the creation of PLAN’s personal network approach. I organized for Judith to come to BC in 1988 on behalf of the Family Support Institute. I remember sharing our nascent thoughts about an organization that would facilitate personal networks. I told her we were going to use volunteers as network facilitators (or community connectors as they are called today). Judith was unequivocal that a voluntary role would not work. She knew network facilitation requires tenacity, creativity and vision. She understood it is not a pastime but a vocation that needs to be honed, mentored and valued.

So began PLAN’s program of recruitment, training and support of some of the most extraordinary community connectors in the world and the development of networks that have created good lives through thick and thin for over two decades.

There is art and science in the work of weaving relationships. At heart the work is paradoxical. It requires a big vision and many small micro actions. It requires unfailing belief and comfort with ambiguity. It calls for rigour, strategy and flexibility. It is fuelled by passion that must be kept alive in the still and slow of network growth. It is hard work and it is important work. It is work for the 21st Century in a world that is hungry for connection and meaning.

Our connectedness to one and other is often what is best about being human. Most of us cannot imagine a life without moments of shared laughter, the warmth of a loved one’s glance, the touch of another’s hand. Our capacities to care for one and other, to collaborate, to nurture and connect allow us to create things of profound beauty and wonder. They remind of us of our true nature and provide us with hope and purpose. Each day, as community connectors and network weavers do their work, they shine a light on this profound truth.

We know that healthy, human relations are vital to our individual and collective happiness. We need to engage and connect. We need to be inconvenienced, dropped on, surprised and called upon. We have to stop pretending any of us can go it alone. I believe we can change the world if keep opening our hearts to give to and receive from one another. We know how to do it. And when we do, the world is a better place for everyone.

I think that initial enthusiasm was a little like falling in love: the excitement is highest when you first meet. However after the initial excitement wears off, it is through shared experience and commitment that love deepens and grows. And so it has been with our networks. Through trial and error, effort and commitment, love and caring we refined our learning about these marvellous, living entities called personal networks. Today as networks extend countless acts of kindness and caring far beyond our early imaginings, we have more conviction than ever that meaningful, mutual relationships are possible for everyone.

If you are interested in learning more about how to create networks of support around someone you live or work with, Plan Institute hosts a Personal Network Facilitation online course (Weaving the Ties That Bind) lead by PLAN Director, Rebecca Pauls. Click here to learn more about the course and for upcoming dates.