A community is more than streets, buildings and the people who live there. Beneath the surface is a network of connections and people relating to each other in many ways that make up the essentials of community life.
In Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), a concept of community based on work by John McKnight, a distinction is made between institutions and associations. Institutions (like a health clinic, restaurant, or car dealer) relate to community members based upon a need that people want to fill. Institutions meet needs for medical care, food, transportation, etc.
Associations (like a garden club, sewing group, or book club) relate to community members based upon the gifts, talents, and assets people bring to them. Associations provide an opportunity for people to share their gifts of playing a game well, using a needle and thread, literary understanding, etc. People who are members of associations have an opportunity to enrich the community by sharing their interests and talents. As a result, they enjoy a sense of belonging and increased self-esteem.
Associations are an often overlooked resource. When we are trying to support someone to build a better life, it is "easy" for professionals to rely upon other professionals (and their institutions) to find solutions. We sometimes forget the power inherent in all the informal connections and networks that exist in our community.