We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village.” And as we’re seeing in the clean-up of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast, many people would be stranded without the help of a village of neighbors, volunteers and workers. Utility crews from all across the country have joined the efforts of New York and New Jersey to help bring power back to the millions of people in the dark, and volunteers (including disappointed would-be New York marathoners) are aiding the Red Cross and the National Guard in distributing food to the people trapped in their apartment buildings. The rest of the country is not leaving the individual states, the individual people, to clean up and get back to everyday life by themselves. We’re creating a village around them to support them. It’s what we do.

At Academy for Five Element Acupuncture, this sense of social responsibility runs through the very mission and vision of our institution. Our faculty give up time in their practices to come and teach the next generation of practitioners. Our interns volunteer their time and skills to treat military service members and their family members in our Free Veterans Clinic on Thursday nights. And many graduates are trying out ways to offer community-style acupuncture clinics so that people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access treatment, can find more affordable options. These are just some of the ways in which AFEA seeks to support the community that it is a part of.

I find that it’s often easier to quantify the contributions of larger institutions and organizations like schools or the Red Cross, than it is to understand smaller, personal efforts. But, I’ve noticed in my tenure at AFEA that the “smaller” efforts of a few often make more of a difference. While we appreciate the large scale efforts (and we really do appreciate them), more often than not, it’s the face of one person who brings food, who takes someone into their home, who offers life-saving advice that we remember most in the long run. Comfort is more readily available and immediate from the people you know, or the people in your community.

I raise this point because it’s important to consider how much one person’s contribution can make in another person’s life. I think we forget this in the rush of our daily lives. We forget that just being there for someone makes all the difference. I hear our students talk about this a lot, how a family member, classmate, teacher or friend said something that got them through a tough phase in the program. And while getting through graduate school isn’t quite on the same level as digging out from a destructive hurricane, the lesson is the same: we can’t get through situations of endurance without help.

This is the reason the Academic Dean will recommend setting up an underclassman with an upperclassman mentor.  Advice from someone who’s been in your shoes and is now on the other side is invaluable. I’m often amazed at how students share food, recipes, nutrition tips, pot lucks, to show their love and support for each other. It’s so simple and yet, so very effective.  And I know how much extra time our teachers spend with students discussing theoretical quandaries and guiding them through the treatment planning process. Stopping  a student in the hallway, just to ask how they’re doing when you’ve noticed something a little “off” with their energy has usually drawn out some issue that they didn’t feel was “worth” talking about. And they’re just grateful that someone took a moment to check in. It’s time to start checking in with the people in our lives. Without support, it can be hard to stay motivated to see a problem through to its solution. Epiphanies are difficult and sometimes, it’s easier to stay frustrated.

It takes a strong support system to complete something as challenging as a Master of Acupuncture degree. It’s a grueling process that isn’t always inspiring or rapturously poetic or idyllic. This is why at Commencement ceremonies, our Director makes it a point to thank all of the family and friends of the graduates for their love and support (emotional or financial as the case may be).  She know that it’s really the people along the way who make our journeys possible, and more rewarding.

So, I’m writing today to remind everyone of how important you are in the web of relationships in your lives, and how important your acts can be to those around you. No matter how well you know that other person. Take a moment to thank those who have supported you, particularly the ones you don’t always remember to thank. And then pay it forward.

I’d love to hear who has supported you most on your journey. Let me know and we’ll thank them a little more publicly today!