Fostering Local Well-Being and Social Cohesion

On Thursday, July 6th, the NRN met at the Needham Town Hall and continued to brainstorm next steps for three projects that emerged as local needs during our “State of Needham” reflections: a mental health collaborative, projects fostering belonging in local businesses and projects fostering belonging in the community. 

ICE BREAKER: The Best Advice I Ever Received

In pairs, members discussed the best advice they’ve ever been given: 

  • Don’t ever wake a sleeping baby.
  • Ask yourself: “Do you want to be in the same place in your life a year from now?” If the answer is no, what do you need to do to get where you want?
  • Speak your truth. 
  • Always be curious.
  • We are all responsible for our own happiness.


The goal of the “State of Needham” reflections was tripart: to build common knowledge about town issues, foster intergroup empathy and understanding, and apply our shared understanding of the risks, weaknesses, strengths and disparities that exist in town to how we think about risk and protective factors at the local level.

"Risk" and "protective factors" are terms that are used in the mental health world and in the world of intergroup prejudice, or even extremism. Risk factors include stressors and losses (losing a job or being financially insecure, losing a loved one, the end of a relationship, etc.), while protective factors refer to social support and access to coping and mental health resources (e.g., having strong friends and family relationships, being able to access mental health care, etc.).

Investing in our community’s mental health and social cohesion is, therefore, a tool for preventing division and preemptively countering hate.

It is also an important input into how we design and implement rapid response (from September 2023 to February 2024, the NRN will use its meetings to co-create and practice a rapid response protocol). 

As a conclusion to the “Deep Dive,” NRN members received a draft of the “NRN State of Needham Report” in June. The goals of the report are: 

  • to consolidate the NRN’s main learnings and reflections from the last 8 months
  • to develop a shared narrative around challenges and strengths in Needham
  • to make NRN reflections available to the public

NRN members were asked to review the report for accuracy and emphasis, and to offer feedback before July 15 so that we may present a revised version to the community.


At the June meeting, the NRN identified two themes that had emerged again and again in our Deep Dives; the rising challenges around mental and behavioral health in Needham and disparities in residents’ sense of belonging. In the July meeting, NRN members continued to brainstorm potential actions that the NRN might pursue in collaboration with other local actors to address them. 

1) Improving Community Mental Health via a Mental Health Collaborative

In partnership with the Needham Community Council, the YMCA, and BID-Needham, this project will aim to: 

  • Increase community awareness, knowledge, and de-stigmatization of mental health issues by training a cohort of “hub” leaders who reflect the varied communities throughout Needham in Mental Health First Aid and community outreach. These trusted community “hub leaders” will then co-create mental initiatives with their communities to build awareness and access to resources.

  • Create a clinician collaborative to increase accessibility of therapy for low-income and non-white populations who need mental and behavioral health care and live or go to school in Needham. The collaborative will prioritize cross-cultural competency and diversity. 

  • Establish a mental health presence at community events such as block parties, festivals, business gatherings, as well as initiatives at houses of worship, schools, childcare centers, etc. and offer tools for self-assessment, outreach steps and conversation starters.

  • The NRN and its partners have submitted a proposal to do this work with Boston Children’s Hospital; we will continue to seek funding on behalf of this project.

2) Increasing Community Belonging 

The goal of a “Together Needham” initiative (name TBD) is to build awareness about what belonging is and looks like, and set a positive norm of belonging throughout the town. Ideas for this initiative include:

  • Distributing a community welcome packet to all residents, bi-annually, publicizing major town events, including a list of local groups and organizations and ways to get involved, linking to a calendar, etc.

  • The establishment of a certificate/award/plaque for "Places of Belonging"; those non-business locations (e.g., parks, bridges, etc.) most frequently mentioned in the NRN “Belonging & Social Cohesion Survey”. 

  • Create a website where residents can take the Belonging Barometer quiz to see their belonging score, answer a few questions, and be routed to local groups or activities that might interest them, i.e., “The Best of Belonging in Needham.”  

  • Encouraging or supporting neighborhood block parties or activities with special belonging or wellness themes (e.g., visits by Rocket the Youth Resource Officer dog, representation by informal mental health hub leaders, and projects in conjunction with the Needham Arts Council). 

  • Supporting a second Multicultural Festival. 

  • Creating programs/gatherings with the themes of belonging and/or wellness for specific, at-risk groups, such as caregivers; elderly (i.e., intergenerational activities); parents of younger children that might not yet be engaged in school communities (i.e., parent co-ops) and teens.

  • These initiatives will serve everybody; newcomers to Needham, people that have experienced change (housing, developmental milestones including children moving away, marriage, divorce and death), and the average person/family.

3) Developing a “Businesses/Places of Belonging” Program in Needham

In partnership with the Needham Business Alliance - Charles River Regional Chamber, this project includes: 

  • The establishment of an annual or bi-annual certificate/award for “Belonging Businesses,” those restaurants, stores or community centers most frequently mentioned in the NRN “Belonging & Social Cohesion Survey.” 

  • Assembling resources and/or providing workshops on how to incorporate effective belonging practices/spaces into the workplace (or entity of interest).

  • Creating a scholarship program to develop/honor high schoolers who have contributed to belonging within Needham and/or to foster internship opportunities for low-income and non-white high schoolers.

  • Designing and/or helping to foster Community Conversations around salient topics such as belonging, equity and wellness in Needham.

  • The NRN will play a role in fostering Community Conversations alongside other community actors.

Thanks to everyone in the NRN for sharing their time and talent to produce an initial scaffolding for these projects. The Co-Directors will soon reach out about next steps, including how NRN subnetworks can be engaged to recruit other community members in the planning and enactment of these projects.