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Celebrating Unity: The Experience of Reducing Social Isolation

Our mental health coverage in 2024 is made possible by the Minnesota Association for Children's Mental Health.

Some of the festivities at the Imagine Act 2024 event included tiara-making. Photo Sarah Whiting

Marnita Schroedl and her team know how to throw a party. At Imagine Act 2024, a recent women’s empowerment event at Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis, halls were filled with food and drink catered by women-led businesses, glitter tattoo artists, materials to make tiaras, question prompts on tables to spark conversations, a group photo station, and interactive activities to get people mingling on their feet.

Since 2005, Marnita’s Table has brought together tens of thousands of people to help transform individual or organizational behavior. Different levels of training serve neighborhoods, schools, governments, or businesses.

The events feature an Intentional Social Interaction (IZI) model that uses experience-engineering methods to build bridges across difference, counteract implicit bias, and adjust preconceived notions of the “other.”

Events take place in homes, senior housing, and companies, and have even taken place at the Mall of America. The cities of Bloomington, Richfield, and Edina are collaborating on a youth mental health program using IZI facilitators. All involve food and getting acquainted, generally organized around a theme chosen by the host.

Photo Sarah Whiting

Training director Lauren Toussaint says, “IZI can be used to catalyze authentic relationships across differences, get community input on a particular issue, or create a unified vision with a diverse group. Post-pandemic, most IZIs have centered around the topics of social isolation, mental health, and healing from trauma.”

Schroedl says personal safety is a common concern raised in community conversations.

Discussion cards randomly available on tables offer prompts for conversation:

  • If you had to pick two things about yourself that you value the most, what would they be?
  • Have you had a conversation that changed your life?
  • Do you know what relationships you need to move forward in your dreams, goals, and visions? Do you know how to find and develop those relationships?
  • Are you skilled at placing boundaries? How did you develop that skill?
  • Have you ever felt excluded from a space, group, or organization because of your gender?
  • Change: love it, or not so much?

Marinta Schroedl. Photo Sarah Whiting

A concluding activity at this event tapped into feelings of not being seen. Everyone stood in a circle. One person started off by telling the person on the left how he or she wants to be seen. That person responded, “I see you,” then shared her own way of wanting to be seen to the person at her left. This went on until the full circle of more than 110 women had spoken.

 

A few ways some of the people at the event filled in the phrase: “See me as…”

  • “A singer of songs.”
  • “An authentic Black woman who’s willing to share my lesson.”
  • “Someone at peace honoring my God.”
  • “Someone who loves you, unconditionally, my daughter.”
  • “Someone who accepts, respects, and protects fiercely.”
  • “Someone who is confident but empathetic.”
  • “A daughter of immigrants paving the way for her family.”
  • “A transitioning and evolving human being.”
  • “Someone who deals with life by randomly busting out dancing.”
  • “One who witnesses injustice and still has hope.”