Rear View Mirror Check

Wendy McCaig – Embrace Richmond

True success comes when the community is the driving force behind change.

Several months ago Jay Van Groningen from Communities First Association taught a three day intensive workshop on Asset Based Community Development.  One question Jay asked us over and over again is “When you look in the rear view mirror, do you see a community transformation story?”

This week we wrapped up our 2010-11 AmeriCorps service year and I had a chance to look in the rear view mirror.  I wrote a post on the Embrace Richmond blog which chronologically highlighted the achievements of our team this past year.  I also included some outcomes numbers for the year in our newsletter.  Below is a summary

We provided positions for 31 AmeriCorps members, 14 of which were homeless or at-risk with barriers to employment.  75% of our members successfully completed their term of service and all the graduating members either enrolled for another term of service, entered college or moved into permanent employment.

Our members provided goods and services to over 2500 individuals  valued at over $250,000. We mentored roughly 150 individuals who grew in their civic engagement, achieved a personal goal, or advanced vocationally.

As impressive as the outcomes are considering we have a staff of 4 part-time people who manage all these members and coordinate 4 programs, 9 different initiatives and 2 outside placement sites.  My favorite statistic is that we went from 5 committed resident leaders to a team of nearly 20 resident leaders from Hillside Court, 5 of which have joined our Embrace Richmond team as stipend volunteers.

Providing “goods and services” is something that is easy to count, measure and relatively easy to do. It also sounds really impressive. However, goods and services do not create “transformation stories.”  People transform communities not programs.  Long-term sustainable transformation is only possible when residents begin to take ownership of their community – when they care enough to get involved.    While 20 people may not seem like enough to change a community with 440 households, what is exciting is the growth.

One of the greatest challenges facing distressed communities if apathy.  People don’t want to live there, they just want out.  So getting people to care enough to get involved is truly a miracle and requires a tremendous amount of investment and prayers.

My friend Jay also said that community development work involved “ferocious instrumentalism.”  Getting those first five leaders who cared enough to get involved took a year of listening, befriending, gaining trust, proving our worth, and more listening.  This kind of work requires a level of patience that most people in our “outcomes” driven culture simply don’t have.

However, transformation stories take time to unfold.  We are entering our third year in our commitment to strengthening Hillside Court by investing in resident leaders and we are just now starting see signs of an amazing transformation story unfold.

One of my goals this year is to introduce you to the resident leaders of Hillside Court, because they are the real success story.  I know you will all fall in love with them the way our Embrace Richmond staff have.  Each of them inspires us in a unique and special way.  In addition to telling you their stories, we are also working out a new schedule that will allow you to support them in their work by volunteering with one of our 5 Community Action Teams.  I will also be profiling each of the 9 community based initiatives on the Embrace Richmond website.

Check out Wendy’s blog for more posts here.

About communitiesfirstassociation
Using Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) methods, CFA transforms a growing number of communities and engages Christians and Churches in their community.

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