I grew up in a rural neighborhood in Wayne County. It was the place where I rode my bicycle in the summer, took walks with my dogs and family and played with other children and my siblings. While in junior high school, I won an opportunity to fly in a small plane with a teacher who was also a pilot. When we were in the air, he asked me what I wanted to see. I told him that I wanted to fly over my neighborhood. It was amazing to look down over my neighborhood, this sacred space for me, from the air. Although I no longer live in that neighborhood, my parents still live there. When I visit my mom and dad, the neighborhood still feels like home and brings a sense of comfort.
Shifting Our Language
The “Say What?” blog series is meant to provide a view of United Church Homes’ intentional change in the language we use within our communities. This shift in our language is meant to assist our communities to align with our vision of being a place “where the Spirit creates Abundant Life in Community.” We believe that our communities are home for our residents. With this in mind, culturally, we are shifting from language that demonstrates a medical model of thinking and acting to language that reflects home and community.
Each Sunday, I take the word of the week to residents during worship to get their perspective on both the image the “old” word gives and how they feel about the “new” word. When asked about the images the residents received when they heard our “old” words unit or wing, their thoughts reflected exactly why we were no longer using such language. Residents said that the words unit and wing conjured up images of an intensive care unit, a hospital, a module and a section of something. One resident said the words seemed “cold and sterile.” Obviously, the words unit and wing were not conducive to creating a sense of abundant life in community.
When asked about the new word, “neighborhood,” the images where much more positive. Residents lifted up such images as street, home and backyard. One resident said that the word gave them the image of “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.” Another resident said that the word “neighborhood” is “a place where there are people with whom you can talk.” In switching our language from medical terms to words which reflect home, there is the sense that our vision is being met and that the resident feel that the Spirit is creating abundant life within their community.
Changing Words and Actions
It is not enough to simply change our wording, however. Several of our communities have gone the extra mile and have or are working toward naming the “neighborhoods” within their communities. In naming the areas within a community, there is a sense of fostering a sense of home. For some of our communities, staff in those neighborhoods wear special T-shirts that reflect the name of the neighborhood in which they are called to work. This allows not only our residents but also our staff to feel that they are a part of the neighborhood. Abundant life in community is thus experienced by all.
How do you think of your neighborhood? What images come to mind when you think of a unit or wing? Which words would you use to describe your neighborhood? Words matter. May the words you use to describe your neighborhood bring you a sense of abundant life!