“Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.”
Asset-based community development is a long-term process. It can take years before there are visible signs that a community is being transformed from the inside out. Jay Van Groningen, founder of Communities First Association, identified a number of visible signs that can help us measure the effectiveness of community development work. Below, I have taken Jay’s measurements and modified them to fit the language and philosophy of Embrace Richmond. However, the basic concepts are the same and I want to credit Jay for his genius in putting this together. Generally speaking, communities move through these stages as they progress through the development process.
A community is being transformed when:
- A community unites around a shared vision
- Neighbors use their gifts to help the neighborhood
- Leadership emerges in the community from the community
- Residents assume ownership for the on-going work of community transformation
- There is a growing sense of pride and community connectedness
- There is less dependence on outside organizations and resources
- Residents experience a sense of peace and joy (Shalom)
- Local congregations love their neighbors by supporting local leaders
- There is evidence of God’s Kingdom breaking through on earth as it is in heaven in the community.
I have been doing this kind of development work for nearly 8 years and I am just now starting to recognize these signs of development and to celebrate them. We are so trained to think in terms of measurable outcomes like number of people served, or value of services rendered, or number of people who come to the worship service. These short-term outputs sound impressive but often have no real lasting impact and do not necessarily lead to lasting transformation.
For example, today one of our church partners gave away groceries to 50 families. In a month’s time, those same families will be standing in line seeking help again. Today we also launched a “food co-op.” Through the food co-op, families can work together to buy groceries direct from a distributor at a lower cost and will be able to stretch their food budget. A food co-op is “owned” by its members who set their own policies and procedures. Next month, co-op members will have less need for the food pantry because they are able to buy more with what they already have. We can serve more people faster through a food pantry where we pre-bag the food and ask nothing of the “recipients.” A co-op will take more time and more investment by the neighbors but in the end, the neighbors will be able to sustain it with little or no outside help. This is a development story that has yet to unfold and only time will tell if it is successful.
A more mature story is the one that has been unfolding in Hillside Court, one of the roughest public housing communities in the city of Richmond. We have been in the Hillside community listening to residents and building up community leaders for nearly 4 years. What united the community was a vision of a safer community. After 3 murders in the first three weeks of 2011, the community finally reached the point of being angry enough to do something to change its future. Resident Patrice Shelton stepped up to organize parents to insure the children in the community were safe and formed the “Hillside Family Support Team.”
That beginning had a snow ball effect. Patrice recruited Denise and Lindsay to be a part of her team. She learned that Denise had a gift for cooking and hospitality, so she put her to work helping to build a sense of community within the team. Lindsay had a heart for youth and Patrice helped her connect with Embrace’s Community Leader program where Lindsay was trained in Asset Based Community Development principles and practices. Within weeks, Lindsay recruited her husband Tony, who recruited five other adult men to help start a youth football team in the neighborhood, the first one the community has ever had! The best thing about this story is that Patrice, a resident who cared enough to get involved, is the one responsible for all these residents uniting to make a difference in their community.
On September 1st, Embrace Richmond will officially hand over the reins of the community development work in Hillside Court to the residents and their supporters who will ensure the community development efforts continue. Patrice will serve as the president of this new expression. Embrace will continue to provide financial support and ongoing coaching but the residents will assume full responsibility for the future of the development efforts.
Two weeks ago, I attended a community fellowship event organized by Denise and her team of six cooks. They had decorated and cooked for the event and cheerfully served the guests in their color coordinated attire. Patrice facilitated the entire event and had asked the six men who started the football team to share why they had decided to step up and make it happen for these kids.
One by one, these men shared that they were tired of Hillside being overlooked and referred to as “Killside”. They were not going to wait around for the city to bring in more programs that they would just cut in a year. They shared how they did not want the kids to be ashamed of where they lived but wanted to instill pride and dignity in them. I cried tears of joy as one by one these men shared their heart for their community and their heart for the children of the community. I have never seen anything like this before in my eight years of doing this work. I had never even met these men. The movement has taken on a life of its own!
This is nothing short of a miracle….it is evidence of a little taste of heaven that sprouted up in the most unlikely of places. The blood spilled in that community has given new life to the community. It is a resurrection story that needs to be told.
So what does community transformation look like? Some will look at the 30+ kids playing football this summer and all they will see is children playing. Some will look at the moms who gather weekly to build a safer community and just see caring parents. Some will look at the monthly fellowship events and only see the food and fellowship. I see God making all things new. I feel a new spirit is blowing in Hillside Court. Can you see it, do you feel it?
For those of you wondering, there has also been a reduction in the number and severity of violent crimes over the past year. There is a growing sense of pride in the neighborhood. More and more neighbors are using their gifts to be a blessing to the community. It has been a very slow process. It took years and years of sowing seeds and praying. Today we see the fruit and it is all a total God thing. It is a spiritual movement that no human can manufacture. Hillside is no longer Killside, but Healside might be a better nickname. We still have a long way to go, but we see signs that God is doing a new thing in this neighborhood.
Where so you see signs of community transformation taking place?
What transformation stories are you celebrating in your community?
Posted with permission. Click here to see original post.