Unifying a Community

Belongingness — feeling part of a greater community of like-minders — is an essential ingredient for anyone to thrive. Without it, a sense of isolation cultivates instead and can lead to hopelessness, depression and even suicide. It’s a basic human need to have a place to go and belong.

Shortly after accepting the health promotion officer position with the Community Health Promotion Council at Fort Meade in 2010, Marivic Fields, LMSW, BCD, quickly noticed the pattern of unique variables her patients juggled as they sought to find where they belonged. She was also disheartened by the pattern of mixed messages and missed opportunities.

When Marivic talks about Fort Meade’s future Education and Resiliency Center, she speaks from the lenses of a behavioral health professional, a U.S. Public Health Service officer and a former military spouse. She is able to identify, as well as empathize, with the feeling of constantly searching, constantly looking, constantly hoping to find a place to belong. Regular residential changes, awkward bureaucracies, unforeseen obstacles and on-the-job pressures are often happening at once making it seemingly impossible for anyone to feel enabled to build a much-needed community. All the while, no one ever really knows if someone is struggling internally.

“Sometimes, you hear of stories where it’s just too late,” Marivic shares.

Adding to the complexity is individual personality styles. With or without any stigma, not everyone is able to ask for help. Meanwhile, departments inside and outside the Installation are historically siloed from each other, making it difficult to know what resources are where. The intention to help service members and families get connected is noted, yet the empowerment to effectively direct them is thwarted.

 “If the families that we’re trying to care for are seeing the entities at Fort Meade aren’t that connected, then we’re not really modeling that behavior.”

When the Fort Meade Alliance (FMA) first began discussions for an Education and Resiliency Center, Marivic has not only been one of the advocates for a one-stop-shop approach, she has also seen how the planning process of unifying services is also beginning to unify the voice of Fort Meade leadership.

“We’re becoming more connected right now,” Marivic explains. “We are learning what each other is doing and it’s getting easier to refer someone to the right place and help each other out. [This] progress builds a confidence in the community because they can see it. So, it’s not just lip service…they can actually see how all the different services are coming together.”

Collective efforts of research also affirmed how many talented military members, spouses, retirees and veterans are thirsting to find a way to share their gifts, to find a place to give.

“Sometimes there’s just no audience for that,” Marivic explains. “So, again, we’re creating that avenue for them to be able to share, a place to go.”

Belongingness boils down to being intentional. It means noticing opportunities to welcome others while leveraging the power of awareness, willingness, unity and inclusivity. Belongingness is about risking to believe, indeed, you are not alone, a message Fort Meade and the FMA will effectively deliver again and again through a centralized Education and Resiliency Center.  

“We need to intervene early as much as possible,” Marivic shares. “We need to be there for them in the beginning rather than waiting for a missed opportunity. Every interaction is an opportunity to show them that they have a community where they can feel a part of, where they don’t have to feel like they’re alone.”