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A sense of belonging is not just a desirable element in one's life, it's a basic need for a happy and fulfilled life. It's no wonder Coppell's small-town feel is one of the main reasons residents say they decided to call the city home. With steady growth and changing demographics since the 1970s, Coppell has managed to maintain a close knit and engaged community. As the population continues to evolve and diversify, the City has taken an innovative approach to carry on and strengthen the bonds of the community by celebrating differences, making connections and finding common ground through the Allies in Community initiative.
Active residents from all backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life were chosen to form the program's first cohort. This group has been tasked with sharing Coppell's legacy of volunteerism and civil engagement and planning for its future to continue to foster that sense of belonging in a changing community. Each person in the cohort brings unique insights and experiences to help carry out this monumental vision.
One such member, Mohamed Elmougy, and his family were attracted to Coppell because of the location and schools and moved to the city in 1993. However, the Egyptian-born Muslim father of three noticed several holidays were left off the school calendar and went to the district to ask them to recognize more, including Ramadan. Elmougy's mission was to raise awareness and ensure children of diverse backgrounds weren't forgotten. He knew it was important for him to stay involved and continue spreading diversity awareness in his new community.
"Demographics are definitely shifting, which is good because it enriches the residents of the city," he said. "It is my duty as a resident of Coppell to help facilitate that shift in demographics."
Elmougy's experience is one of many that helps Allies in Community anticipate these shifts and meet them head on. Armed with their varied backgrounds cohort members focus on a specific module each month meant to open eyes and minds. Then, they are divided into teams to complete a hands-on project to expand the lesson. Teams then report back to the entire cohort at the next meeting.
For the first project, Allies teams showcased activities in booths at Coppell's 2nd Annual Kaleidoscope festival, a celebration of arts and cultures, in October 2018. One notable booth featured a world map where visitors were invited to place a push pin on their birthplace and share their story of what brought them to Coppell. As a topic of both the initiative and the festival, the activity proved to be interesting, influential, and an excellent way to boost the Allies program.
Another Allies booth focused on awareness by distributing a list of current volunteer opportunities within the city, compiled by cohort members along with the specifics of how to take advantage of those opportunities. While residents come from all different places and backgrounds, the reasons for choosing Coppell are often the same. However, finding a niche and where each person feels the most useful as a volunteer can prove difficult. As a retired executive and active volunteer in several leadership roles, Allies member Sally McCurdy knows firsthand how hard it is to find the time to make those meaningful service connections as well as effectively distribute information about volunteer opportunities. She said making specific information readily available in a variety of ways can be another key to maintaining that sense of belonging and an engaged community.
"There is a desire to volunteer within our community," McCurdy said. "A lot of people are looking for ways to do that and I'm not sure they always get connected. You have to search those opportunities out in a pretty focused way to get connected to those things that are meaningful to you and your family."
The Allies in Community experience has brought attention to diversity and awareness, but the intermingling of experiences has also sparked a variety of other concepts for cohort members. For Vonita White, it is discovering that Coppell's future of volunteerism and civil engagement isn't just about bridging cultural divides, but generational ones as well.
After calling Coppell home for more than 40 years, White has long-term volunteering experience. From partnerships with the City and school district as an educator to her time on the board of the Friends of the Coppell Nature Park since its inception nearly 15 years ago, White has been involved in a variety of volunteer efforts. The legacy of volunteerism in Coppell is centered around those long-term service commitments and memberships like the Lion's Club or Kiwanis, White said, but that structure of volunteerism is changing. Younger generations have different priorities and social values than previous generations, which has shifted the focus from long-term service commitments to short term projects. People still have the desire to serve, but those short-term opportunities need to be created for those people to continue to contribute. Instead of waiting 15 years and wondering what happened to the membership and effectiveness of the community's service organizations, Coppell has chosen to be proactive through Allies in Community, White said.
"The basic need and predominate value for our society to give back is still there," she said. "It just might look different in the future."
While the first Allies in Community cohort will continue to explore diversity, volunteerism and community engagement throughout the next several months with the hopes of paving the way for future cohorts, many members agree that they have already established an unprecedented environment of understanding. It is a safe and respectful place for everyone to discuss opinions, broaden perspectives, build relationships, and realize that while we all might think, see, and do things differently, there is always a way to find common ground.
To learn more about Allies in Community or to get involved, visit coppelltx.gov/allies and click on the "Join Our Mailing List" link to sign up to receive information, or email email@example.com.