Why is it important for advisors to be intentional about building a sense of belonging and inclusion in their clubs? According to social psychologists in the article “How to Increase Your Sense of Belonging” by Kendra Cherry, who holds a master’s degree in education, it’s a basic human need. Spending time with people who make us feel like we belong helps us develop trust in others and a positive sense of self. So, how do Builders Club members work together to help everyone feel welcome?
Al Riggle, Kiwanis club advisor for the Austin Middle School Builders Club in Indiana, U.S., for over 10 years, says club members invite anyone interested in conducting community service to attend club meetings and events.
“All students are welcome,” Riggle says.
Advisors interested in making their club more inclusive should ensure that club members’ personal judgments don’t sway them from being genuine and welcoming.
“Accept each student/member for who they are and help them develop their skills. Don’t try to change them into something they’re not,” he says. “Most of all, just be supportive. Encourage and help them connect with the group. It might be the only group they connect with.”
To nurture feelings of inclusion, Riggle’s club members assist their sponsoring Kiwanis club with projects such as spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts.
“This gives them a chance to work together and with other clubs and adults serving the community,” Riggle says. “It helps them bond with each other and showcase their talents in front of the community.”
His club members also are included in planning sessions designed to work closely with Kiwanis members to improve processes and give the students more responsibility. They also participate in Salvation Army bell ringing, which helps them identify as a group in the community and see others who are less fortunate, providing a different perspective and sparking empathy.
Learning about challenges club members face can help advisors build a sense of belonging within the club. Riggle discovered that students in the LGBTQ+ community experience more bullying than others.
“I find it positive that club members feel they can bring up these concerns when the club meets to discuss how to be inclusive and nonjudgmental.”
The benefits of feeling like they belong can change a student’s life. According to the article “Cultivating a Sense of Belonging for All Children” published on stride.com.au, youth who connect with and are accepted by a group of individuals are better able to navigate life’s challenges, feel safe and secure and feel confident in their own identity.
Try using the strategies shared in this article to increase inclusivity within your Builders Club. Your club can also try these activities: