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Humans have made honorable resolutions at the start of each new year for centuries. In medieval times, knights took a “peacock vow” to reaffirm their devotion to chivalry. The Romans resolved to better themselves in honor of the god Janus, after whom our January is named; the Babylonians endeavored to pay all debts. We like a fresh start; it’s part of our nature.

But before you become obsessed with your new Fitbit, how about spending a few minutes to resolve ways that you can act to improve life for everyone in Sonoma County? Here are some steps all of us can take to create a healthier county — without getting on a treadmill.

1. Tell a story. At Community Foundation Sonoma County, we’ve made a commitment to “invest early,” building on data that supports early childhood education as a key driver to healthy, productive lives. A recent White House report estimates that every $1 spent on the very young saves $7 as they grow. An easy way to embrace this resolution is to exchange an hour a week of screen time for story time. Read to a young person. Let them read to you. Create a new narrative together.

2. Change your demographic. The latest census figures show that Sonoma County’s population is aging and diversifying. As your town’s demographics have changed, how have your demographics changed? Resolve to get to know three people this year who have different life experiences than your own. Being inclusive on a personal level requires curiosity, the willingness to test your own assumptions and risk being vulnerable. It is only through building a connection that we can tackle our collective issues together.

3. Encourage someone. Mentorship is a building block of strong community. Local organizations such as SAY, VOICES and 10,000 Degrees Sonoma County demonstrate the transformation that comes to youth with support. We also know that face-to-face encouragement helps those who feel isolated, struggle with mental illness or do not have a home. Resolve to encourage someone each day; let them know that they are not alone.

4. Travel (without leaving the county). A few years ago, a San Francisco man resolved to walk every block of the city’s 49 square miles. What he learned educated him in ways that driving through the city for decades never had. We know from the Portrait of Sonoma County report that we can live near one another but have great differences and disparities in our neighborhoods. Learn with your feet, not just your head. Resolve to walk new neighborhoods, sample new places to eat, and be on the lookout for people who might just help you with Resolution No. 2.

5. Say thank you. Do this right now. Say thank you to the next person you encounter. Say thank you not because it is easy, but because it is effective. A colleague of mine recently said, “We all have it in ourselves to assume the best and to deeply appreciate one another, so let’s do it more often.” Thank you, Karl, for that reminder. After decades of working in philanthropy, I’ve observed that being philanthropic starts with thanks, with actively appreciating the place you live, the resources you have, the people you encounter, the complexities of the problems and the creativity of the potential solutions.

Thank you, 2015, for giving us another chance to make these shared resolutions stick.

Elizabeth Brown is president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

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