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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