On Community Building in the Era of Division

             It’s admittedly difficult to maintain an outlook of positivity if you keep up with today’s news cycle. From high profile court cases of sexual assault to the endless coverage of a narcissist president, we are inundated with news meant to provoke divisiveness and outrage.

             Scroll through anyone’s Facebook feed and you can just feel the visceral disgust emanating off our screens. I’m tempted, as I’m sure you have been as well, to delete my social media accounts and turn away from this world of negativity and conflict.

             But is that really the solution to this problem?

             Perhaps it is. I have a number of friends who’ve happily deleted their accounts and pay little attention to the war of ideas being fought over the internet.

             But perhaps it isn’t. Because doing so would close the door on one of the greatest opportunities we’ve created to build something special: online communities with the power to make positive and lasting impact on the world.

             Right now, I want to press pause on the outrage machine that dominates our news feeds and tell you a story of how one such community is slowly coming together.

             Back in July, as a beautiful summer was finally taking hold in Seattle, I received a Facebook message from an unlikely source.

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             The sender was Yarenni Mendoza, a colleague whom I’d met in dental school whose story shared many parallels with mine - a family stricken by cancer and a desire to do something about it.

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             Yarenni and I met after work one day, and it immediately became clear that a synergy was afoot. For the past few months, I had been establishing the legal foundation for a non-profit organization, and I was eager to find a partner who could help me develop it. Yarenni, on the other hand, was doing everything she could to support her family as they rode the turbulent rollercoaster of cancer care. But after having experienced the instability of that ride firsthand, she wanted to find a way to help make it smoother for others.

             After sharing our stories with one another, it only made sense that we combine our efforts in the arena cancer awareness and support. And just like that, the core team of LiveSmyle grew from one to two.

             But two people don’t exactly constitute a thriving community. So we got to work.

             The first step was to establish a donor base who would support our vision of helping families undergoing cancer treatment. And my goodness, what a treat it was when over 15 family and friends agreed to become regular donors for the LiveSmyle Foundation.

             The agreement was simple: each donor would pledge $1 for every social media engagement our Facebook page generated. And in three short months, this wonderfully generous group collectively raised over $6,500!

             The next step was to find a meaningful recipient for these funds. And we did exactly that when we heard the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance needed help refurbishing components of their patient housing facility in South Lake Union.

             In particular, patient beds had not been replaced in quite some time, so we purchased and donated 4 complete bed sets to the housing facility. And with gracious acceptance from the team at SCCA, our community grew just a little bigger that day.

From left to right: Yarenni Mendoza (LiveSmyle), Zara Crump (SCCA), Hakan Gem (LiveSmyle), Debbie Fraley (SCCA)

From left to right: Yarenni Mendoza (LiveSmyle), Zara Crump (SCCA), Hakan Gem (LiveSmyle), Debbie Fraley (SCCA)

             And we’re not stopping there. We are hopeful that our next contribution will provide SCCA patients and their loved ones with fun experiences and positive memories as they visit Seattle for treatment. Two tickets to a Sounders FC match and two more tickets to the Cirque Du Soleil show “Volta” are to be raffled off in the coming days. We won’t know who will win them, but we will know that on the nights of October 8th and October 12th, four individuals whose worlds have been upended by cancer will find respite from their conditions, even if for just a couple hours.

             There is one more pillar in this emerging community that I haven’t yet mentioned. And that pillar is you, reading this right now. Ultimately, it’s the online engagement from people like you that fuels this entire operation. Not only do you help raise cancer awareness with each like, comment, and/or share, but you also help us raise the funds which our donors have agreed to pledge with each engagement.

             And for that we want to say thank you. Moving forward, we will keep a running tally of those who remain the most engaged with our Facebook page and reward them with small gift cards to various cafes, restaurants, and retailers. Don’t expect too much! But it’s our way of showing how much we appreciate you helping us achieve our mission.

             Make no mistake, I’m well aware that the LiveSmyle Foundation is but the smallest of fishes in a vast ocean of clickbait headlines and political/social dramas vying for your attention. Maybe it’s naive of me to think that we can leverage social media for something other than powering the outrage machine.

             But if you see the same potential for positive impact that I see, and feel the same pull toward a world of compassion and inclusivity that I feel, then join us.

             Join us simply by liking our page or by sharing our posts. Join us by telling your friends and family about us. Join us by becoming a donor. Join us if you feel like you can share your own skills and expertise with our team of two. Someday soon, I have no doubt that our team will inevitably grow to three. And then four. How big can this get? And who will those people be?

             If you have been affected by cancer in any capacity, I offer you this opportunity to channel your loss, your anger, your frustration, your grief, whatever it may be, into a vehicle for good. If you fall into this camp, you have a community ready to accept you and implement your ideas for what constitutes a better life for cancer patients and their families.

             Beyond the scope of cancer awareness, I want to leave you with my final and perhaps most important request. Aspire to use the tools at your disposal (the internet, social media, etc.) not to drum up controversy or maliciously spotlight those with whom you disagree. Rather, aspire to use these tools to build communities that will withstand this era of division. It may in fact be the most effective, if not only way we leave this era behind.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in front of Mount Rainier. South Lake Union, Seattle, WA..

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in front of Mount Rainier. South Lake Union, Seattle, WA..