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Tools for Life: An exploration on the value of personal science for care, wellbeing and community in Michigan

“We need a vision of community that is relevant and future-facing. A vision that brings us closer to one another, allows us to be vulnerable and imperfect, to grieve and stumble, to be held accountable and loved deeply. We need models of success and leadership that fundamentally value love, care, and generosity of resources and spirit” Mia Birdsong, author of How We Show Up

How would the world be different if people were much more aware of their interconnectedness, of the many daily acts of love and generosity around them, and of the impact of day-to-day life on everyone’s wellbeing? 

How would we act if we saw vividly that caring for one another, giving and receiving, is the basic state of being human?

With such clarity, could we have weathered the events of the past year with less divisiveness and heartbreak? Could we have enjoyed more togetherness and resiliency?

We think so, based on what we discovered in the just completed We All Care Initiative.


The We All Care Initiative set out to test the proposition that if people learned to see care in their lives more clearly, they would be much better at caring for themselves, their families and their communities. The project discovered that the impact was strong.

It was led by Atlas of Care and a diverse group of 11 organizations across Michigan, including Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Ann Arbor Area Community FoundationFremont Area Community Foundation, Hospice of Michigan, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Newyago County Community Collaborative, Southeast Michigan Senior Regional Collaborative, Temple Beth Emeth, and Zingerman’s Community of Businesses.

The heart of the project was the Mapping Ourselves workshop, conducted in-person or online. Learning a process we call “personal science,” participants used six accessible, carefully designed, pen-and-paper tools to observe, visualize, and analyze various aspects of everyday living: family and social networks, conversations, daily activities, environment, and bodily impacts.

Through the workshop, participants discovered the value of their collective knowledge, wisdom and skills. They experienced the joy of supporting each other.


Over 200 participants, ranging from high school students, restaurant workers and social activists, to health professionals, professors and business leaders, universally found the workshop powerful. The experience of collective self-reflection deepened individual learning and increased social capital.

The Mapping Ourselves approach has broad application and appeal.

  • Participants identified a wide range of communities (neighborhoods, schools, businesses, healthcare, safety professionals, etc.) they believe would dramatically benefit from such learning.
  • The learning spread organically. People were inspired to teach the tools and personal science methods to relatives, friends, coworkers, and clients. As one participant remarked, these were “tools for life.”


We are dealing with several major societal challenges, such as the depth of systemic racism; the decline of women in the workforce due to their disproportionate burden of care; and the long term and often debilitating impacts of even mild cases of Covid.

We see a need to reimagine community and wellbeing. To demand more recognition, celebration, and support for human-to-human, everyday care. And to move from crisis-driven actions to fundamental community building.

The success of the We All Care Initiative validates a way forward.


Download the full report here.

Except where noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.