The design and operation of a GHC should be based on and continuously informed by emerging knowledge of how to promote flourishing for people of all ages.
All programs, practices, and policies in a GHC are grounded in what theory and research has shown to
• help children thrive
• support family well-being
• promote the health and happiness of older adults
• encourage community cohesiveness.
Theory and research
Ultimately we want the children and youth, parents, and older adults including the frail elderly — as well as the community as a whole — to flourish. We believe, as Martin Seligman writes in his compelling book, Flourish, “when individuals flourish, health, productivity, and peace follow” (2011, p. 240).
Seligman writes that both well-being theory and happiness theory include the core elements of positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and positive relationships with positive relationships being the most important. “Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up” (p. 20).
Children, families, and older adults
Research is pretty consistent and straight forward on what children need to flourish. All children need nurturing, stable, and consistent relationships. They need to feel that they belong and that someone will always be there for them, loving them or caring deeply about them unconditionally. They also need a safe and predictable environment.
Strong families are the key to providing children with consistency and care. To be strong, families need adequate emotional, social, and financial resources within a safe and stable place. They also need caring older adults as friends and neighbors. And older adults to age well, need purposeful engagement and meaningful relationships in their daily lives.
Much of what makes a community a good place to raise children also makes it a good place to grow old. Both families and older adults need neighborhoods where there is an atmosphere of cooperation and connectedness, where people care about (not just for) each other, and where shared values are embedded in history, traditions, and memories. In these neighborhoods, kindness abounds. As a resident of Hope Meadows once said:
I think the reason people become close here is because of the love for the children and the caring for each other and what each other is trying to do—the seniors caring for the families and what they are trying to do with the children, and the families caring for the seniors because they know we are trying to help them in any and every way we can.
The real challenge
Because much of the theory and research is almost intuitive when we think about our own children, parents, and close friends and neighbors, over time it can become automatic or simply taken for granted.
Be mindful, however, that there always will be a constant pull from bureaucratic systems to be guided by their rules and practices—a way of thinking and doing which is not designed (for example) to raise children and provide the stability they need to become healthy, productive adults; or to offer older adults a purposeful life and make them an important part of daily living in a thriving community.
In a GHC, caring relationships among neighbors must often take precedence over more shortsighted rules and practices of specialists and systems outside the neighborhood, and a grounding in theory and research can prove to be a powerful asset in such situations.
Following is an incomplete list of key references for theory and research that has guided the development of the GHC Model:
Benson, P.L. (2006). All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Brazelton, T.B. and Greenspan, S.I. (2000). The irreducible needs of children: What every child must have to grow, learn, and flourish. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Gardner, J.W. (1995). The new leadership agenda. In K. Gozdz (Ed.) Community building: Renewing spirit and learning in business (pp. 283-303). San Francisco: Sterling and Stone.
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.
McKnight, J. (1995). The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. NY: BasicBooks.
Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of CA Press.
Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at home: Caring and social policy. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of CA Press.
Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. New York: Dell Publishing.
Schorr, L.B. (1989). Within our reach: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage. New York: Anchor Books.
Schorr, L.B. (1997). Common purpose: Strengthening families and neighborhoods to rebuild lives. New York: Anchor Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.
Shonkoff, J. & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Thomas, B. (2014). Second wind. Navigating the passage to a slower, deeper, and more connected life. New York: Simon & Schuster.