Organizing the Community
For a community to come together and effectively address problems in their neighborhood a community has to be organized. This seems like pretty obvious logic, right? But how exactly do you organize people in the community and how do you decide what the agenda for change will be?
In September of 2006 Rick Droog met with a RCA pastor who had been hired by his church to be involved 10 hours a week in community development work. Rick talked to the pastor about the Communities First model of community development and they decided that it would be neat to get a group of people together over lunch to talk about their community.
So they got a group of community and church leaders together. Rick asked the group, “What needs do you see in our community?” The group framed the discussion around what they saw happening in their neighborhoods. After talking with each other they came up with a list of things that they felt needed to be addressed.
However, Rick challenged the group to bring more people to the table to get a better picture of what more people in the community wanted the agenda for change to be. “Some of the things on the list were the things we saw as church leaders and community leaders, and we didn’t necessarily have the voices or the focus [that we needed] at the table,” said Rick.
Taking the advice to heart, the leaders started trying to expand the group asking, “Who isn’t at the table that should be at the table?” The best way to create an agenda for change is with diverse voices and so the group started inviting more people to talk with. Over a period of time as more people came to the table the group prioritized the list of needs and narrowed it down to two or three possibilities.
“One of the things that kept coming up was transitional housing. Particularly transitional housing for women and children,” said Rick. To examine the need for transitional housing they invited people to the group with knowledge in that area. They invited the director and some board members from the local crisis center, people from different social organizations within the community, as well as members from Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Getting representatives of these organizations together to compare their experiences was invaluable. What they found out from the crisis center people was that if a woman came to them she could stay in their facility for thirty days, but then had to release her due to the grants and stipulations on the crisis center. The HUD people discussed that their main function was to help people by providing housing and funding for lower income housing, but many times their grants and funding would not come through until about ninety days after their application. “So the gap we saw was from about day thirty to day ninety,” said Rick.
With this information the group started to explore how they could address this need. The group asked, “If we had some type of facility would it be full?” The response was, “If you had a facility open today we could have six or eight folks [in it immediately].”
The group decided to pursue the idea of a facility to provide transitional housing and began looking for and organizing assets within their community. First, they began looking for a building that was both accessible to the community and met the needs of the people who would be living in it. It just so happened that the community hospital had just built a brand new 35 million dollar hospital on the outskirts of the town. The old hospital building happened to be right in the middle of the community.
Rick and the others started meeting with the hospital and challenged them with the vision they had for a transitional housing facility and the women who would stay there. They asked the hospital if would be possible to have part of the old hospital for their facility. “We got the hospitals to agree to give us a wing, which is ten rooms and a community room,” Rick excitedly said. The hospital was going to lease it to the group, but then they went back and asked the hospital if they would be willing to give them the wing. After some consideration the hospital decided to give them the wing free of charge for the year!
Next, they started organizing people’s assets within the community to get the new facility up and running. Electricians and other skilled labor volunteered their time to convert the hospital wing into a transitional housing facility. The local college and other organizations pledged to help out and supply volunteers to run the facility. A young woman volunteered to be the night resident for free as well. More and more people were invited to join in to make the project happen. “As we did this also a kind of buzz came out, what was going on? What was happening? Soon other people who also had passions and were like-minded began to come to the table and it really built a lot of neat community,” said Rick.
Groundwork for developing a 501c3 non-profit was starting and Rick knew a lawyer and asked him if he would be willing to use his gifts and abilities to help out. The lawyer volunteered his time free of charge.
More and more people contributed their gifts and abilities until finally the transitional housing was ready to open. “Many volunteers did not necessarily have the time to be involved at the same level that some of us were, but they were more than willing to give of their gifts and abilities,” observed Rick.
The transitional housing facility, officially called The Bridge, opened in September of 2007. The Bridge provides a non-profit, faith-based, transitional housing for women and children. “I think what has been neat is we’ve seen churches get involved, community folks getting involved, business people, social agencies, [all] getting together in the process. So we’re excited about it,” smiled Rick.
So what’s next for this community? “I hope we are not done listening,” said Rick. “We need to convene some new folks from the community and do some more listening. We need to do some more thinking, discussing, and dialoging about what is the next thing to make the community more like heaven.”
MORE STORIES ON THE BRIDGE:
Back On Her Feet
Every Gift is a Blessing
The Bridge Offers Transitional Housing (Newspaper Link)
Volunteering at The Bridge
Teamwork: How Area Agencies Work Together