On March 13, 2024

Rutland’s Social Tinkering organization expands reach with national spotlight

Last Wednesday, March 6, Rutland area nonprofit organization Social Tinkering was featured during the prime news hour between 5-6 p.m. on National Public Radio (NPR). The Social Tinkering team is thrilled that people are hearing about their work all across the nation, but that spotlight is just the beginning. The response they’ve received from people in states near and far has been very exciting. Their 4-minute NPR piece skyrocketed engagement and reach on social media by 79% on Facebook and 1,600% on Instagram, and within hours over a dozen people from across the country had joined their email list.

Messages flowed in asking things like: “Do you have events in my area?” “How can I get involved?” “Am I in luck that you’re doing events in my town?” “How can I start this in my area?”

From New York to Alabama, Detroit-Metro to California to Omaha, people all across the country are reaching out. So what’s local Director Jeanette Langston’s reaction? “Hold on folks, we’re working on it!” Because what Social Tinkering is doing is different from your usual hangout. They named the complex problem of social isolation and lack of connection and intentionally design their social spaces in ways that people can be socially awkward, unsure, and make mistakes, and still be welcomed with open arms, compassion, laughter, and a hot tea or cocoa.

As Langston said, “We’re all awkward and weird so let’s just be that together, talk about it, and overcome it.”

Marissa Arduca, the organization’s assistant director said: “It’s not just about the numbers for us. What really matters is the genuine impact on people who stopped, who related to our story, and then decided to learn more about our work. They’re not just numbers; they’re individuals joining our journey, reflecting the heart of our mission — to touch lives and build meaningful connections.” 

Arduca added: “It’s all about the moments we share, the understanding we create, and the excitement for what comes next. Come join us as we keep telling stories that resonate, connect, and inspire.”

On Jan. 24, Vermont Public’s Nina Keck visited Social Tinkering’s cornerstone monthly social, “Gather Together” and captured the intent and energy of the meetups perfectly in her original February story. She created a way for people to directly hear why attendees show up and why they keep returning.

When Keck asked visitor Russ Green if the social is working he responded, “…this is my first time here, so I’ll let you know, but yeah, it’s just a really super, super, positive vibe.”

Heather Wilson, Social Tinkering’s board president and a registered nurse, said, “This seems like such a simple concept, but taking time to intentionally work on feeling more connection with others and ourselves is so important. These gatherings create accessible and inclusive space and time for all people in our community where we can all build friendships and connections to improve our health.” 

Thanks to funding from United Way and the VT Community Foundation, this March marks two years of the monthly meetups. On March 27, the organization will host “Gather Together” again with cake and ice cream added to the usual hot cocoa and popcorn.

Social Tinkering is also working on a new project: opening a community social hub for the Rutland region it calls a Community Living Room. Instead of having just two hours a month where people can hang out and connect, the Community Living Room will be a physical location that will eventually have similar hours to a restaurant or coffee shop.

Langston described it this way: “Imagine you have a few hours and just want to get out of the house and be around other people but you don’t really know anyone or don’t have a lot of money to spend. Where do you go? Especially if it’s raining!?”

The space will be a welcoming and inclusive, bright and relaxing place, for people of all ages and backgrounds to go and meet up with old friends and new. They plan to coordinate with many community partners to empower people to share their knowledge and skills to all work together to increase connection and help Rutland thrive. The organization is encouraging anyone who is interested in partnering, sponsoring, or volunteering to contact them to get involved.

Social Tinkering is also developing an innovative planning model for community wellbeing that includes offering training and consultation for organizations, businesses, and local governments that help people grow meaningful connections to help them thrive. In the business case, building a well-being culture in a workplace improves employee mental health and engagement. Langston shared that through her community partnership work she hears conversations around retaining employees and residents almost daily now. She believes building micro-cultures of connection and wellbeing are the key to healthy success and sustainability.

An article by Bernie Wong and Kelly Greenwood published in the Harvard Business Review Oct. 10, 2023, called “The Future of Mental Health at Work Is Safety, Community, and a Healthy Organizational Culture” reinforces Social Tinkering’s wellbeing planning goals, explaining how focusing on creating and sustaining a wellbeing culture in a workplace can help businesses thrive.

The Social Tinkering team is excited to be building its innovative community connection model in the Rutland region, a place where so many people care deeply about each other.

The group has several more exciting events coming up this spring that will soon be announced including birthday celebrations, donation opportunities, community presentations, and a workshop on storytelling for connection building.

For more info, visit: socialtinkering.org.

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