Jonathan Hood
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There is a longing in the deepest parts of us – to belong. The hope that there is a table somewhere, around which we might actually be comfortable in our own skin. We don’t have to hide. We don’t have to keep our secrets. There’s always been a community of relationship. We are designed for that.
 
Where do you feel you belong? Imagine being in 6th grade, the teacher asks the entire class to pull out their short novels and take turns reading a paragraph in front of the entire class. The first reader begins, her words effortlessly flow out of her mouth. She is elegant and able to fluctuate her voice with grace as she takes on the persona of other characters. You are sitting close, so It is almost your turn. The sweat from your palms seem to soak the pages of your open book. It is your turn now. You aren’t confident in your reading skills. You don’t think you quite understand the words like the other students do. What do you do? Some would cause a disturbance to get sent out of class. Others would asked to be excused to go to the washroom. Anything to hide the fact that they feel like they don't belong because they are not confident in their ability to read. 
 
A good friend of mine just moved out west. She shared what her 9-year old daughter said to her after school started, “Mommy, I’m really glad we moved out here. Where we used to live I was really different from the other kids and didn’t feel like I fit in. Now everyone is just like me and I feel like I belong”.

Having a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. Feeling like you belong opens individuals to engagement, learning, and growth. it increases feelings of support and confidence. 

Many students who are disengaged feel like they do not belong. This is for many reasons: they don't get enough likes on social media, they don't dress the same as others, and they do not have the same abilities as others, are a few. In our programs we foster a sense of belonging through acceptance and team-building. First, we guide students to learn more about themselves as individuals. Then we create an environment of trust so that students are willing to share who they are with others in the group. We draw on similarities between one another and share who we are as a collective. 

I have found that many young people have a hard time really being comfortable with who they are. They cover their "flaws" and "imperfections" with clothing, make-up and bad behaviour. They do what they can so they feel like they are part of something. If you engage with a young person, rather than critique them about the way they dress, or suggest to them what they can do better, take a second and accept them for who they are. Demonstrate that you accept them and they belong. 

GET AFTER IT!