Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dajon Ferrell - Cultivating Connection Within Your Community

Dajon Ferrell is an Army National Guard Veteran who has served as both a full-time and traditional soldier in the Army National Guard for 13 years. She has created Operation Synergy, a nonprofit that provides Veterans with mindfulness training to help restore and empower them to create a healthy and purposeful life. Committed to serving the Veteran community, she also volunteers as a peer support group facilitator and peer mentor for Wounded Warrior Project. Dajon is a 2015 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

We live in a world filled with technology, busy schedules, and to-do lists. Go to any restaurant and look at how many people – whether alone or with someone – are focusing on their devices, whether it be a phone or tablet. We come into contact with dozens of people each day, but how many people do we really connect with? Make eye contact with?

While serving 13 years in the military, I learned the importance of quickly connecting with fellow service members. Each unit is a mix of various races, cultures, religions, and so on, but cultivating cohesion was critical to our mission and effectiveness. In fact, I became so close to the people I served with, that I found it very hard to relate to civilians upon leaving the military. It felt like an ‘us’ and ‘them’ scenario. Through volunteering and getting myself out into the community as much as possible, I was quickly reminded that we are all humans. Every day you’re passing someone who is celebrating a life event, grieving a loss, healing from a trauma, excited to be alive, or just barely making it through the day. Awareness of those around us has helped me realize that I am part of this human community.

The Veteran community has created a space of awareness around depression, suicide, and other life challenges. We are taught signs to look for and how to find help. That’s not always the case for the wider population in your community. You can help by creating bridges with people.
“As you discover what strength you can draw from your community in this world from which it stands apart, look outward as well as inward. Build bridges instead of walls.”
–Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
How can you cultivate connection throughout your day? How can you be part of the solution to dissolving self-perceived barriers with your community? My suggestions to do this include the following:
  1. Remove the word ‘busy’ from your vocabulary. When a co-worker or neighbor asks how you’re doing, resist the common reply of ‘Oh, you know, keeping busy!’ Share, open up, and you just might find a common bond.
  2. Random acts of kindness. This is an easy one and you may or may not see the benefits, but try committing random acts of kindness in your neighborhood and office. You could even suggest a RAOK challenge in your community.
  3. Get involved. Find out what needs your community has and give back. It doesn’t always have to be monetary. For example, Open Arms, a non-profit based in Minneapolis, is always looking for drivers to deliver meals over the lunch hour. You could do this as a family or get a group together. There are many other organizations looking for help out there. Just take a look.
  4. Shift your paradigm. Simply changing your thoughts can help you cultivate connection. Instead of looking at others as ‘them,’ remember that we’re all in this together. Division doesn’t expand humanity, connection does!


  1. A wonderful account of how experiencing connection in the military changed a veteran's paradigm about humanity and community. This is why Veterans Voices is a perfect fit for the humanities!