Nearly everyone doing community change work acknowledges the importance of race, class and culture. But how do you tackle these sensitive subjects? The journey of one Making Connections Des Moines staff person – a self-described “white person from the suburbs” – suggests both some answers to this question as well as why addressing these issues is so critical to any effort to build community and engage residents.
Making Connections began its work in local communities by having senior foundation staff take on the role of “Site Team Leader.” Asked to reflect about this role, these “STLs” offer some very interesting perspectives about the challenging process of implementing a national initiative in communities across the country.
A small group in Ames, Iowa, is exploring a very different approach to helping poor people, one that links people across income levels. The group’s founder, Lois Smidt, raises some provocative questions about how we try to reduce poverty and measure our success.
This report, done for Grassroots Grantmakers, developed out of an “on-the-ground” meeting involving 50 funders who support grassroots organizations in low-income communities. Through in-depth interviews it explores many topics raised at this meeting, including the need to build strong relationships with communities, to build the capacity of these communities and to build the capacity of foundations to do this work.
This report examines what happens when a multi-site initiative that has been led by a mix of the funder’s staff, local “site coordinators,” local partners and residents decides that, to sustain the work over time, it must find a local organization to manage the work on the ground? The report is based on 36 interviews with people involved in this transition process in seven Making Connections sites.
|“The work just has to keep going” – A Reflection on Denver’s Community Court"|
As the people who helped win a community court based in a Making Connections Denver neighborhood learned, convincing a system to agree to a reform is just the first step. Then that reform needs to be implemented and ultimately institutionalized. This didn’t happen with Denver’s community court and the reflections by five people about the struggle to keep the court going has much to communicate to anyone involved in a system-reform effort.
|A reflection by Garland Yates about why and how he engaged organizers in Making Connections in Denver|
|“On the big battles, we were getting our butts kicked.”|
The long-time director of a growing organizing group in Denver – and a long-time close partner of Denver Making Connections – reflects about why his groups decided to invest so heavily in a long-term initiative like Making Connections and what has come out of this investment. This publication includes a short reflection by long-time Making Connections Denver Site Team Leader Garland Yates about why he worked hard to engage existing organizing groups in this work.
|A very intense and complex balancing act|
The local people who took on the role of coordinating the Making Connections work in the 10 sites faced a great challenge: how to pull together and be an advocate for local people and organizations while also being the connecting point between the local work and the national foundation that was supporting the work, the Annie E. Casey Foundation. One of the first coordinators was Fred Blackwell in Oakland. He says he learned a lot from the experience.
|Beyond the Reassuring Hug: Candace Redshirt on getting beneath the surface of the relationships in Making Connections|
“Whatever happens with the relationships will influence sustainability. Once the money and the resources are gone, it’s going to be the relationships that continue.”
|A Reflection by Ira Barbell on Organizing|
Making Connections Des Moines has had two very successful experiences working with local community organizing groups on issues that affected many residents of its target neighborhoods. One involves working with Citizens for Community Improvement on predatory lending. The second involves working with AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) on medical debt. These experiences influenced the thinking of Ira Barbell, Making Connections Des Moines’ long-time “Site Team Leader.”
|A Reflection by Ralph Smith about Sustainability|
One of the creators of Making Connections, Ralph Smith, reflects on how to sustain this work locally and why a focus on sustainability is so important for any community change initiative.
|Where the Rubber Hits the Road. The Evolving - and Growing - Role of Local Site Coordinators in Making Connections|
To help build a national initiative from the ground up, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has increasingly relied on "local site coordinators." This publication explores this new role through the eyes of the site coordinators themselves. It also explains what they are learning about how to develop local efforts to transform struggling neighborhoods.
|A Reflection on Why Social Networks Are Critical to Sustainable Change|
The person leading the Annie E. Casey Foundation's work on social networks - Audrey Jordan - explains why social networks are so important to the process of transforming struggling communities. This publication also includes the story of how a community group in Lawrence, Ma., has used a social network approach to revitalize its community.
|A Reflection on How Social Networks Can Become a Powerful Tool to Meet Basic Needs and Build Momentum for Change|
An organization in the border city of Nogales, Az., has used "promotoras" - residents who have been trained to reach out to other residents about health issues - to both meet some of the immediate health needs of low-income families as well as help these families better understand - and ultimately control - the forces that affect their lives. The founder of this organization, Maria Gomez-Murphy, reflects on her organization's social network-approach, explaining how the promotoras do their work and why it has been an effective way to educate and activate many local residents.
|Journey to Engagement: A first-person reflection on how to engage residents.|
When Garland Yates talks about the role residents can and need to play in a community change process, when he talks about the process of residents overcoming uncertainty to become leaders, when he talks about the importance of giving young people opportunities, the talk doesn't just come from his head or his heart. It also comes from his life.
|Reflections on Making Connections - Bringing a Passion for Juvenile Justice System Reform To Making Connections|
The roots of Bart Lubow's expertise in the area of alternatives to incarceration and other aspects of justice and public safety reforms can be traced to his activism against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. His antiwar work in the late 1960s and early 1970s was supported by two nonprofit organizations, Pacific Counseling Service, and the National Lawyers Guild.
|Reflections on Making Connections- Making a Difference: One Life-One Family-Transformed|
"I never had self-confidence. I didn't see myself as a leader. But then I got involved in RCI [the Rebuilding Communities Initiative, the predecessor of Making Connections in Denver]. I began to participate. To speak up. I got the sense that my ideas had value. I realized that I live in this community. I better say what I have to say. It's important." - Candace Redshirt, member of Denver's Community Learning Network, recently hired resident staff member for Making Connections.