Neighborhood Transformation: Whose Vision Is It?

“Community ministry involves more than just starting another program or running another event.  Effective community ministry requires working with a community to capture pictures of what could be different and better.  Community vision that is effective grows out of long-term, sustainable, and relational interactions with community residents.”

Excerpt taken from page 28 of Communities First.  Click here for more information on this resource.

Asset Based Community Development: A Story of Sharing

Kimi Zimmerman–Community enCompass

What is ABCD?

It’s simple really.  At its best, Asset Based Community Development comes out in life stories.

Take Linda for example.  I honestly don’t know much about her.  She’s a retired nurse and new to the McLaughlin neighborhood.  Judging by her kind disposition, I’d venture to say she was the kind of nurse that people remembered and wanted to thank because she made an unpleasant doctor or hospital visit more bearable.

I met Linda one day at Sacred Suds.  She wasn’t doing laundry or showering. Instead, she was taking blood pressure for neighbors that were using the facility.  She wasn’t doing it for money or in any official capacity.  She was doing it because she cares about her community.  She was doing it because she has a passion for people and for nursing. It’s in her DNA.  She has a God-given gift and she can’t help but use it.

This is ABCD - neighbors using their gifts and talents to enrich, change, help, care for, and love the community they are a part of.  Neighbors like Linda.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Linda used her own blood pressure equipment, but found she didn’t have the right size cuff for some of the neighbors.  Another neighbor heard about it and contacted a local agency to see how they could go about getting a larger cuff.  When the agency heard about the volunteer work Linda was doing at Sacred, they couldn’t help but support the cause and donate the equipment.  ABCD is contagious!

This is a simple story about one person doing good by sharing her gifts with her neighbors.

What is ABCD?  It’s neighbors sharing the best parts of themselves to help build a stronger community.

The “Dignity” Store

Clark Blakeman– Second Stories

Five kids ranging from 8 to 3 years old came rolling out of the metal door on a small building across the parking lot from the neighborhood church, a mother chasing behind.  Rapidly fired words mixed with giggles, package shaking, and directionless walking made the mom’s work of corralling the kids difficult.  But she was in a great mood and full of smiles. She gathered up all the gifts she had just bought and wrapped with new friends from the church while her kids played games and made gifts for mom out of construction paper and glue. In her limited English she expressed her thanks and hugs were given to everyone as the family made their way to the bus stop. She seemed to especially cherish a framed family portrait that she received as a gift from a photographer from the church who had set up inside the Dignity Christmas Store.

During the month of December a low-income apartment complex and a local church worked together, facilitated by Second Stories, to create the Dignity Christmas Store. This effort is an expression of a growing understanding of Asset Based Community Development and the relationship developing between the congregation and the residents of the apartments.

The idea had three objectives. One was to support apartment residents who could not afford to purchase Christmas gifts and preserve their dignity in the process. To do this they developed a Christmas tree lot fundraiser that would enable gifts to be purchased and offered at a 90 percent discount from retail. Attending to the lot was shared by many. In this way the low-income residents would experience the dignity of purchasing gifts themselves rather than being demoralized by an “adopt a poor family for the holidays” approach.

Another goal was to further develop relationships between church members and apartment residents.  They achieved this by sequencing each family’s shopping opportunity and pacing it so there was plenty of time for just hanging out. They wrapped gifts together, and sat for conversation over hot chocolate, coffee and snacks. Kids played foosball, made gifts or colored. Families were each offered the opportunity to get a family portrait, which was developed and framed while the parents shopped.

The third aim, and perhaps most important, was to listen for the gifts, abilities and passions of each other so as to discern what additional ways these two groups can work together for the common good of their neighborhood. Informal questions were developed and asked, designed to reveal motivations and assets to be given. Ideas were generated and new possibilities for working together have begun to emerge.  Ideas were gleaned, like working to have sidewalks installed along the apartment complex that butts up against the neighborhoods’ busiest street, offering credit for use at the Dignity Store for anyone who volunteers at the tree lot, increasing the quality of snacks at the Dignity Store by utilizing the multi-ethnic foods represented at the apartments, and doing a jointly hosted international dinner at the local park.

This coalition of “workers for the common good” is young and still somewhat tentative. But already the quality of life for both church members and apartment residents is at a higher level due to the environment of dignity and inclusion being fostered.  This is about healthy relationships on the small and larger neighborhood scale.  And as the mother of 5 can attest, that’s exactly what’s being experienced in SE Portland.

Asset Based Community Development: Working “With” the Community

CFA Executive Director, Jay Van Groningen, responds to a comment from a recent post, and discusses the idea of “In, To, or With:”

“How does one listen to neighbors in a way that: 1. Discovers what neighbors care about enough to act on it? 2. Discovers what gifts they bring to the things they want to work on? 3. Helps neighbors discover their neighbors who care about the things they care about – so they can work on them together?

Personally,  I resist those programs and ministries that churches want to start, control and implement to/for their neighbors. I think it is much healthier when church comes along and supports the good things neighbors care about doing. Then the church and community can work together on how to sustain the good work. If ministry is done really well, the church does not need to own or control the ministry, it gets to support it in the ways that bless ministry and the congregation. If ministry is done really well, the community eagerly accepts and embraces the church members participation on a level, respectful, playing field (with respect to power in and control). They enjoy getting good things done together.”

Here are some further thoughts…

The Church “With” the Community:

  • desires to influence the community.
  • desires community stakeholders to influence it.
  • spends significant resources (time, talent, goods) in the community.
  • utilizes planning and assessment processes that are influenced by both church members and community stakeholders, and makes decisions based on the impact desired by church members and neighbors.
  • serves and develops the community for reasons and with with methods that bring transformational impact to the community and church alike.
  • looks for and unleashes the gifts, skills, and resources already present in the community.
  • is a convener of the community, a servant to the community, adding value to residents and the community as a whole; a net contributor to the community even though it does not pay taxes.

(Communities First, p. 10)  Go to the Store for more information on this resource.

Friday Food for Thought: What’s Your View?

Interested in Asset Based Community Development?  Where do you start?  First, consider your view of your neighborhood; your presumptions about your neighbors and your community influence how you will engage.

Communities First Association presumes the following:

1.  God is already in the community–he was there first!  This is God’s creation and God’s people.  Ministry begins by looking for what God is already doing in a community.

2.  Ministry in a community always takes place in an asset-rich environment.  What God put into the creation itself, into the people in a community, and into the systems and infrastructure of a community are all good gifts that can be used for the common good.

3.  Effective community ministry is the art and discipline of recognizing, developing, and calling forth the gifts, talents, and resources God has already placed in his world for the benefit of all in the community.  Community ministry is not meant to dictate a new reality for the community.

4.  Effective community ministry is a way of life:  living among and engaging neighbors, loving them enough to see God in them, and artfully calling forth and directing their gifts and resources for community benefit.

(Communities First, p. 10)

What presumptions have you made?  How have they impacted your view of your neighbors and your involvement in your community?

To learn more check out the CFA store.

In the News: Asset Based Community Development

The Muskegon Chronicle highlighted CFA member Kimi Zimmerman (Community enCompass) in a February 8th on-line article.  Writer Dave Alexander describes the neighborhood transformation taking place in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon, MI, and focuses on the principles of Asset Based Community Development as the catalyst for change.  He quotes member Kimi Zimmerman, “This neighborhood has grasped the concepts and put them to work here in Muskegon.”  She continues, “We are seeing a beautiful transformation taking place.” Click here to read the full article.

Community Impact

Al Santino-Northeast Community Transformation

CFA’s network has impacted over 450 neighborhoods across the United States.  One example is Common Grace Community Connection in the rural town of Athens, Maine.  CFA member, Al Santino, came alongside Tim Curtis as he worked to form this community action group.   The group has grown in size and impact as they go about the work of community development.  Some highlights over the past year have included increased participation in Common Grace, continued initiatives such as a local garden pathway project, and new working relationships being formed among four area churches.  Training and exploration of asset based community development principles have led to more involvment and a neighbor led initiative called, “The Bridge.”  This outreach benefits residents of a local women’s shelter who have the opportunity to learn skills such as gardening and canning while being encouraged spiritually.  Excitement continues to grow as neighbors seek to impact their community in positive ways.

To learn more about the work of CFA members click here.


Asset Based Community Development: A Personal Transformation

Jim Moynihan-One Church

I have been mindful of the church being a potential community change agent for the Kingdom of God all of my ministry life.  However, I have not had the skills or the language to bring about a transformational ministry in a meaningful or sustained manner in area neighborhoods.  Learning about and being trained in ABCD principles through the Communities First Association for the past two years has given me hope and equipped me to engage area neighborhoods differently.  But, I have remained frustrated by the lack of engagement on the part of the body of Christ in these communities.

Through a recent CFA recommendation I read, When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity.   These books, and the detailed application of the principles they provide, have given me the tools I needed to think through the application of ABCD principles in my context.  I have been able to evaluate my approaches to date and to jettison those strategies that have been ineffective or inappropriate to the specific community development efforts I have been making. This has transformed my thinking and my approach to reaching neighborhoods and area churches and Christians for the purpose of community development.  In particular, I am recognizing my own resistance to applying ABCD principles even though I believe in them.

For example, my compassion for the poor and hurting leads me to get involved in to/for ministries even though I know these are temporary fixes and not solutions. I also realize my motivation to help, to serve, is often part of our corporate desire to feel good about ourselves; that we are doing a good thing in Jesusʼ name. It is truly difficult to recognize these feelings and behaviors as being potentially hurtful.

My concern at this point is how to champion ABCD in ways that will be helpful among area communities without alienating the many well-intentioned efforts of area ministries in the process.  A recent change in my approach is to share these books and their concepts with several ministry friends. There has been a positive response to this so far. Steve Edwards and Tom Andrews, who are involved with the Breakthrough Center in Hampton, have asked me to meet with them to discuss community strategies. Our OneChurch board is also reaching out to the Lackey area of York County to explore with opportunities.

Neighborhood Transformation: From Handouts to Development

Wendy McCaig, Embrace Richmond

Most economically challenged communities experience scarcity of resources such as food, clothing, and especially things that cannot be purchased with food stamps like cleaning supplies, diapers and paper products.  Over the past few years we have been experimenting with ways of providing for these basic needs of our community without fostering dependency.

In Asset Based Community Development the first question we ask is, “What does the community have to work with?”  In our community, the answer to this question is time.  Less than 30% of the residents are employed.  This reality led us to experiment with various forms of time-banks over the years. In a “time-bank” system, participants earn “service credits” when they serve in the community.  Those credits are then redeemed for goods and services.  We are just getting our time bank off the ground in Hillside Court, but we used this approach extensively for our furniture bank program.  The advantages to this approach, which is very similar to a co-op model, are very exciting.

We have found in our use of time banks over the years, that it is a good way of insuring fair distribution of goods as well as developing relationships.  Given that depression brought on by isolation is one of the key issues facing our community, relationships are often in shorter supply than basic goods and services.  By requiring an investment on the part of the recipient, this approach increases the recipient’s sense of ownership, and enhances the relationships between the residents as they serve together in the community.  Time Banking utilizes what people have, while allowing them to access what they need.

Giving out food, clothing, and other goods is not a bad thing, but it should be seen as an emergency response and not as a long-term solution.  Research shows that participating in feeding lines, food pantries, and other forms of charity that require nothing of the recipient can actually devalue a person’s sense of dignity, create dependency, and fuel a spirit of entitlement if it becomes a way of life.  What I love about a co-op/time bank approach is that the need gets met, and the person is actually investing in the ongoing development of the community.  This act of giving actually increases self-esteem and fosters a sense of community pride.

I know this type of approach will be messy.  It is far easier to give away stuff, but I have seen how the hard work involved in setting up an Asset Based Community Development system pays off in the long-run as the residents take ownership of their future and that of their neighborhood.


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