Resilience in the Community: How it Works


In theory, community resiliency occurs when communities are taught useful steps, which guide them toward wellbeing. However, early into Samueli Institute’s Well-Community Project, it became clear that theory is only the beginning of the solution. To be useful, theory-based project models must be implemented by not only the efforts of governing bodies, organizations, and volunteers; but also by the community members themselves. Success means engaging the strengths of a community and allowing for dialogue across all stakeholders.

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Putting Science into Action

After a decade of studying wellbeing in individuals, health systems, and the military; Samueli Institute (SI) experts applied that knowledge to communities, exploring: “What does a well community look like?” as part of a unique program to foster community wellness, the Well Community Project.

The program aimed to go beyond public health and medical care to understand what community wellness is, and how it is developed and sustained. Samueli Institute began by convening stakeholders from communities, as well as activists, academics, and policymakers to probe the process fostering wellness.

The working group adopted a framework first built for the military called Total Force Fitness to intensify their effort. In that initial meeting , participants learned that frameworks were not the core need nor at the heart of the process. Indeed, many frameworks had been developed and they usually left out some of the most important social and historical causes of illness and wellness. What was needed was a much more basic model of human flourishing. Even more important than any model was fostering a process in which the strengths of a community were tapped and a deep dialogue was created across all stakeholders.

Once this process was developed, the communities began to create their own wellness. Samueli Institute worked with three communities from around the country, drawn from locations with some of the worst health metrics. Each was offered an opportunity to receive assistance in a community wellness improvement project of their choice.

A Framework of Community Wellbeing

Experts found that community wellbeing must address the following six pillars to be a resilient and well community: psychological, physical, social, economic, environmental and cultural. A weakness in one of these areas limits the ability of the community members to achieve their full potential.



When experts went to Indianola, MS, a town of 12,000 in the Mississippi Delta region, applied its theory for community wellbeing, those involved saw that the path to resilience could not begin until healing occurred to overcome generations of racism and segregation. This realization, according to Samueli Institute’s VP of Optimal Healing Environments, Bonnie Sakallaris, PhD, RN, changed SI’s approach to building resilience in communities. A group of community leaders met every month for three or four hours at a time to discuss big topics: health, economics, education and race. Through these facilitated conversations, healing began.

“We had to rethink and we had to redefine community wellness, in terms that provided communities with the ability to do their work and measure their work,” Bonnie Sakallaris, PhD, RN, Vice President, Samueli Institute.


The role of community members is just as important and often even more important than that of governing bodies, officials, and activists. Accountability means that the members of the community recognize their part in the destruction or hindrance of their community, as well as the redevelopment and prosperity of their community. Without the input of the people most affected by poor health care services, social-economic injustice, and other factors that contribute to their state of wellbeing; it is impossible to move forward.

“Until the community expresses their needs and gets engaged in the work, the work doesn’t move forward.” Bonnie Sakallaris, PhD, RN

How We Helped

Combining Samueli Institute’s whole-systems research with the existing grassroots efforts within the community, a difference was made. Learning through the process, the Well Community Project became a step-by-step path to resiliency. The steps SI took were as follows:

Step 1: Breaking the Silence

Step 2: Reconciliation, Reparation, and Recovery

Step 3: Moving Forward Through Shared Purpose

Step 4:  Creating Authentic Partnerships

Step 5: Envisioning Possibilities

Step 6: Creating Integrated Networks

What’s Still Missing?

What we know is that resilience is a state of indefinite wellbeing. A resilience community is able to push through, even when times are difficult. In the United States, especially on the subject of healthcare, certain communities still lack the fundamental means to even begin their journey toward resilience. SI believes that understanding the unseen forces behind health and resilience can help.


Samueli Institute recently launched a new website, to materialize the evidence behind integrative medicine, encourage the implementation of mind-body practices in standard care and discuss how mind-body medicine can positively impact the future of our healthcare system. Be sure to visit the site.