I believe the people of Arizona can create a state where all families can thrive.

I’m not just saying that. I actually believe this, and I’ll tell you why.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been holding discussions with community groups across Arizona, as part of a project called “Lean On Me AZ.” The project is funded by Casey Family Programs, and through it, we’re generating tools and messages to help Arizonans like you and me take action to support families. The beginnings of this idea can be found in this blog post.

In the Lean On Me AZ discussion groups, we ask people to speak from their perspective as a member of their community: as parents, caregivers, neighbors, and citizens. Then, we open a discussion revolving around one big question: How can members of the community help strengthen families? We ask participants for specific actions, examples, and stories.

Their answers give me hope.

One woman shared that at the beginning of the pandemic, she knocked on the doors of the families in her neighborhood, just to check in on how they were feeling. From a safe distance, she listened and expressed empathy for the stress they were experiencing. She offered to bring by books and games.

One grandparent acknowledged how hard parenting was. She so much wanted to be there for parents in her community, simply to offer a listening ear or emotional support, but she didn’t know where to go to offer that help.

One man mentioned how powerful it can be to simply give someone the time to share their experiences, story, and perspective. To show you value parents, he said, just listen to them.

Another participant talked about giving a parent an understanding smile as their child threw a tantrum in a grocery store. Another participant talked about being aware of his own bias and misconceptions so he could approach people more non-judgmentally. Another told a story about how he felt more comfortable asking for help when someone he knew shared that he, too, had gotten help.

Listening. Empathy. Acknowledgement. Non-Judgement. There are so many stories and examples like this in these powerful group discussions. People understand that parenting is a tough job, and to help children, we need to be there for their caregivers. As one participant beautifully stated, “The children can’t survive if the parents aren’t surviving. For parents to survive, the community needs to support them, and we’re all part of that community.”

These conversations have renewed my faith in people. They have affirmed how creative, understanding, and compassionate people are. People want to help. They want a community where families are strong and children are protected, and they know what to do to create one.

I know it may be hard to believe in people right now. The divisiveness of this time is like a thick fog. A lot of that divisiveness stems from a fear that people want to make the world worse for you and those you love. That’s threatening, and human beings are not on our best behavior when we feel threatened.

But we’re more unified than we think. Everyone has been affected by this mess of a year. And this shared experience has brought a lot of things to our collective consciousness. We’re noticing a lot of things that are wrong, but we’re also finding solutions, exploring new ways of thinking, revisiting old ways that worked, and tapping into our strength. It’s our strengths that we use to address our challenges. And we may get tired of ‘it all’, but we are relentless.

Why? Because we know the work is worth it. The well-being of children is worth it. And because we believe that, I believe in us.

P.S. A toolkit and summary of the discussions we are holding through Lean On Me AZ will be available in December. We look forward to sharing it with you here.