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United Way of Lancaster County


Forum asks: What is wellbeing? How do we nurture it?

Panelists at the Lancaster County Community Foundation’s forum on Wellbeing & Vibrancy, from left: Johnny Rivera, Chris Kennedy, Jihan Owens-Tyler and Dr. Sharee Livingston. (Photos: Tim Stuhldreher)

For Johnny Rivera, aka “Johnny Blackbeard,” the owner of The Avenue barbershop, wellbeing starts within yourself and involves challenging yourself to become better every day. “It strikes an emotion,” he said.

For Chris Kennedy, founder of Age2Age, a consulting firm that promotes healthy aging and intergenerational connections, wellbeing is a virtuous circle. It’s contagious: When you have it within you, you’re able to nurture it in others.

For Jihan Owens-Tyler, a family therapist and Elizabethtown College professor, it’s holistic, involving every aspect of people, their identities and their relationships.

Dr. Sharee Livingston, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UPMC and founding board member of Patients R Waiting, said it comes down to what a new mother in Kenya told philanthropist Melinda Gates she wanted for her new child: All that is good.

“That’s all any of us want,” she said.

Rivera, Kennedy, Owens-Tyler and Livingston were responding Thursday evening to moderator Marquis Lupton’s initial questions at the Lancaster County Community Foundation’s “Shaping Tomorrow” panel discussion. What, he had asked each of them in turn, do wellbeing and vibrancy mean to you?

From left, Johnny Rivera, Chris Kennedy and moderator Marquis Lupton share a laugh. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Held Thursday evening in partnership with the High Foundation at the S. Dale High Leadership Center in Greenfield, the “community conversation” was the second in a series of four. They correspond to the four categories of the Community Foundation’s Shaping Tomorow grant initiative, through which it is distributing more than $1 million to nonprofits in celebration of its 100th anniversary.

The foundation awarded the first grants, for Creative Expression, in March, followed by Wellbeing & Vibrancy in April. Those for Next Generation and Our Planet awards will follow in the fall.

Lupton is an on-air host and producer at WITF-FM; Thursday’s forum will be featured on an upcoming episode of The Spark, WITF’s local current affairs program. (Update: Though the previous Shaping Tomorrow forum was broadcast on The Spark, Lupton said Monday that this one won’t be.)

Livingston’s organization, Patients R Waiting, aims to eliminate health disparities by increasing diversity in medicine. It offers a variety of educational and career guidance programs to middle school, high school and college students as well as ongoing career support, all designed to build the pipeline of medical professionals from Black and Latino communities and keep it from “leaking.” A related initiative, Diversifying Doulas, trains individuals to provide pregnancy support.

Studies show that Black and Latino clinicians are more likely to practice in underserved communities and that “cultural congruence” between providers and their patients yields better adherence to treatment protocols and improved outcomes, Livingston said.

Patients R Waiting scaled up its virtual programming during the pandemic and now has a national reach, with some 700 students involved in its programs. Its progress says a lot about “who we are and what we value” in Lancaster County, she said: “What we have here is the power to change.”

Panelist Chris Kennedy drew this idea map illustrating the connections between individual and community wellbeing. Click to enlarge. (Source: Chris Kennedy | Age2Age)

Kennedy’s consultancy helps communities adapt to perhaps the biggest demographic shift in world history: The addition of some 30 years to average life expectancy over the past century. That coincided with an unprecedented rise in age segregation: Children at school, seniors in retireent communities.

“We’ve put ageism in the middle of connections,” she said. For most people, the retirement industry’s “play until you die” paradigm is untenable; seniors need to find ways to stay engaged and pursue purpose and meaning.

She herself is an example of what she’s talking about, she said, noting her current career is her seventh.

Jihan Owens-Tyler, left, listens as Dr. Sharee Livingston shares her story. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Owens-Tyler said it’s important to teach advocacy and empowerment; and for people to be willing to have conversations about race and privilege even when it’s uncomfortable. Livingston said there’s much more to do to dismantle the “systemic and structural racism” that has kept marginalized communities from achieving equity.

Rivera said he strives to make his barbershop a safe space where people can open up, by being transparent and emotionally available himself. He tries to be “that listenting ear,” and to point people toward mental health or other resources if they need them.

How can Lancaster County promote wellbeing over the next 100 years? The panelists agreed that the foundation is making a good start by identifying key areas and focusing resources on them. We can’t know what life will look like a century from now, “but we can point the ship,” Kennedy said.

Audience member Tony Dastra, who serves on Lancaster city’s Home Rule Study Commission, said he approaches its mission with that long-term perspective, of setting up the city for decades to come. “I believe Lancaster is the shining city on a hill,” he said, “and it’s the hill I’m willing to die on.”

“Put that on a shirt!” Lupton said, laughing.

Collaborating with likeminded individuals is a great way to move the needle, Lupton said. In Philadelphia, he fell in love with the independent media scene, and when he returned to Lancaster, he was able to find kindred spirits here to help him build his version of it in Lancaster, TCP Network.

Owens-Tyler said ongoing dialog will be important: “That’s how change is fostered.” People need to get out of their comfort zones and meet others from different walks of life.

Thursday’s forum itself is an example, Rivera said, noting the range of people in attendance: “Keep doing stuff like this.”