And just like that, our lives were changed forever…
The Oprah Winfrey Network’s Second Season of Million Dollar Neighbourhood.
None of us could have anticipated just how hard it would end up being. Imagine the chaos generated in putting 100 families from different backgrounds, races, economic status, sexual orientations, and opinions together for ten weeks. The expectation was that this composition of families would all struggle together to achieve weekly personal, financial and community goals.
For ten weeks we were given seemingly impossible challenges and told they had to be completed within six days. Simultaneously, each family was required to increase their personal ‘Net Worth’ by $1000 per week.
Community and personal challenges included such crazy schemes as:
· A 100 family yard sale;
· A food sales competition with two celebrity chefs;
· Surrendering your vehicle;
· Finding hidden money in piggy banks, re-negotiating mortgage rates;
· Cancelling credit cards and non-essential services;
· Selling valuables;
· Obtaining overtime at work, or a new job, or an upgraded job;
· Reuniting a family separated for almost two decades from the other side of the planet;
· Improving the status and value of your home;
· Surrendering your vices…
In six days.
Exceptionally quick decisions had to be made regarding venues, the items/services involved, donations, local government approvals, appropriate advertising/promotions, and most tricky – the agreement of 100 families. These challenges were definitely not easy.
Due to the limited amount of time involved each week, this group was forced into an artificial environment where decisions had to be made, and trust built – instantly. Conventional inhibitions were fragmented and the group was compelled into forced immediate mutual dependency. As a participant in this experiment, I observed that we had to trust first, and learn later.
Comfort zones were abandoned in a stirring cacophony of panic and enthusiasm as people came out of their shells and made miracles happen. Despite the diverse group of community members, we were able to build a safe environment of trust and acceptance for all to talk about their greatest fears, darkest secrets, shared hopes and similar interests. Relationships were formed during this time that will endure for life.
A number of support groups have developed for people within this group who are, or have been, in complicated circumstances. Many in this community have discovered a new level of acceptance for themselves and others, as well as a better tolerance for things they previously did not comprehend. We have learned, and are still learning, so many important life skills.
I met people whom I would never have met if not for this ‘experiment’. It is with great pleasure that I can now walk into a room containing this group and see only friends that I know accept me for who I am. These people are from all walks of life. As a person I grew more in the those four months than in any other similar period of my life. Our kids saw our family develop into more confident, positive, social, and valued members of a community. For me there is no dollar amount that can be placed on this. I have witnessed people with debilitating emotional and financial problems rise up out of their own hopeless circumstances and re-purpose their lives.
When asked on camera how I felt about the challenges being over, I was confused. I told them I felt the challenges would now begin. For four months, seven days a week, we had been directed on what to do,when to do it, how often to do it, and how fast to do it. Now we were are all suddenly cast into an inky black pool of uncertainty, cut adrift from the meticulously scripted world of “Reality” TV. We didn’t always agree with each other, or the producers. However, not once, during our many ‘on camera’ interviews, did my family express a hint of doubt that we would succeed at every challenge.
We were privileged to have been a part of this experience. I am so proud of all the people in this new community who have done something, a little or a lot, to help out another person in the past four months. There were times when we weren’t able to put as much time or energy into the challenges based on work, family obligations, school, or illness. I’ve always heard that volunteering is a great way to feel good about oneself, whether it is acknowledged or anonymous. I’d done things throughout the process that I would never have considered doing before. It was scary at times, definitely out of the comfort zone, and always exciting.
Officially our ‘experiment’ ended after 6.5 months of filming. The production crews, camera teams and story editors had all packed up and gone home. The last shot had been canned and sent to editing. Many had expressed concern about going back to the lives they had before this show. I shared in the opinion that I didn’t want to go back to my ‘old’ life.
People are allegedly healthier, happier and live longer lives when surrounded by an emotional support group. That is what has emerged for us from this volatile social experiment. We metamorphosed into a new community and now call these new-found neighbours ‘friends’.
I have earned a spot as a valued member of my community. It was a tough haul to get here but worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears along the way. I wish all communities were able to benefit from this type of opportunity. Don’t you?