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A Conversation about Civic Participation at Different Stages of Life

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By: Cara DiEnno, Associate Director, CCESL

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Sitting down in front of my laptop in my new makeshift home office on a Friday night isn’t *exactly* my idea of the best way to ring in the weekend. But I was sitting there due to my own making having organized an A Community Table conversation with my family. It was the best time we could find given that we were spread across five different time zones and two continents. And yet, as the blue glow of the screen lit up my face, I couldn’t help but smile as one by one each of my loved ones joined our virtual meeting room. 

From my elderly parents quarantining for their health and safety and experiencing isolation unfamiliar to their typically packed post-retirement social life to my niece in Japan navigating quarantine in a tiny apartment, alone, in a country they love and which has embraced them, a culture they have grown fond of, and yet a place that isn’t quite home – while related by blood, we represented many different perspectives. Our little group of eight included someone born in every decade from the 1940s to the 1990s. So it only seemed fitting for the topic of our conversation to be civic participation at different ages and stages in life. I learned a great deal about my family that night, more than I ever thought I would. 

One of my nieces, who is typically quite shy, had such rich and interesting stories to tell about their views of civic engagement through the lens of their prior work as a Resident Life Assistant at their alma mater – I wonder if I would have ever known these stories had it not been for the interesting prompts provided by DU Grand Challenges and DU Dialogues. My parents reflected on service they’re engaged in both inside and outside their retirement community. One of my sisters, feeling like she hadn’t contributed much by way of civic participation, expressed a sense of disappointment in herself, only to be reminded by the rest of us about her rich involvement in her children’s schools. My other sister spoke about her career and how, for her, her professional calling doing mobility work with veterans allowed her to engage in changing systems that ignited both her passion and her paid work. I absolutely loved the opportunity to connect with my family in this structured way. While communicating via Zoom wasn’t something we had ever done before the pandemic, we had had a few calls before this one. However, the structure of A Community Table brought our conversation and connection to one another to new places of exploration. 

We found greater understanding about our shared family bonds as well as the individual paths each of us has forged (not just in physical location, but in how we each have contributed to the communities in which we are embedded). If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s to ask the deep, meaningful questions I’m typically accustomed to asking my colleagues of my family as well. The answers may open new windows into the hearts and minds of those I cherish most.