2011: A Look Back

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

2011 was quite a remarkable year for CFA.  CFA is an association, and CFA members are all lodged in regional intermediary organizations. Most of their host organizations do a mix of poverty alleviating programs and church mobilizing for poverty alleviation. The common factor that draws members to CFA is their focus on neighborhood transformation using Asset Based Community Development approaches. CFA members in 2011 have developed into a substantial professional network with an impressive, working tool kit of skills and resources. We can confidently say as an association, that we know how to work within neighborhoods in a way that leads neighbors to directing their own neighborhood progress, and that more churches are engaging in the work in respectful, appropriate, supportive ways .

From a big picture perspective the major challenges for CFA in 2011 were these:

  • AmeriCorps funding: After running a very successful grant program teaching neighborhoods how to implement community listening, asset mapping, and neighbor organizing for 6 years, our grant application in 2011 was denied as a result of changing guidelines. The new grant guidelines were a deal breaker, because they would force neighborhoods to work on programs determined by the government. CFA believes the neighborhoods must identify what  they want to work on. In 2012, CFA will be looking for other ways to do this work.
  • It feels like we have transitioned from a launch phase to a significant growth phase.  In 2011, we added more CFA members than any prior year. We ended the year with 22 regional trainer/coaches who are coaching leaders in over 400 neighborhoods nationwide. The challenge is that with only two staff devoting time to new member vetting and coaching, we are beyond our capacity to adequately attend to regional growth. We really need an additional staff person.
  • Focusing on adding value: CFA will lose members if we do not add value at all times in sufficient quantity and quality to retain a member’s interest.
  • Fundraising continues to be a challenge. While we ended the year in the black, we did not adequately diversify our revenue streams. We are discovering that CFA’s financial future and CFA Partner organizations financial strength are integrally linked. We will be working really hard to figure out how to do joint fundraising in 2012.
  • Collaboration – for results. CFA is always scanning the horizon to see what other national associations and organizations we can partner with to the end that more neighborhoods are transformed.  CFA has an agreement with Leadership Foundations (they focus on city transformation) and Think Tank-Circles a national community building program focusing on helping people get off welfare in large measure by helping them break out of their personal and communal isolation.

Looking at 2011 in the rear view mirror causes us to praise God for how He has used CFA in raising leadership for transforming a growing number of neighborhoods. May He be pleased and direct our path in 2012.

Jay Van Groningen, Executive Director

Click here for the full annual report.

Jobs Equal Justice

This post was written by Wendy McCaig, the founder and executive director of Embrace Richmond (a CFA partnering organization).  You can find the original post here.

Robert Lupton’s book, “Toxic Charity”, issues us all with a strong challenge – to move away from “an entrenched giveaway mentality” that destroys human dignity and damages communities in the long run. For this mentality to shift we have to “restructure our established one-way charity systems” and create opportunities for people to work.

There are three basic approaches to poverty; relief, individual betterment and community development.

Relief programs are focused on “giving a fish.”  Lupton warns us of the down side saying,

“Loading an area down with poverty programs and human services can virtually ruin its chances of economic rebirth.”

Individual betterment programs (tutoring, mentoring, training) are focused on “teaching people to fish.” Lupton writes,

“Betterment programs do make a difference. Yet, as important as these services may be (essential, some would say), serving people is distinctly different from developing people.”

Community development is focused on improving the “condition of the pond.”  Many of our urban communities have become so toxic that no amount of relief or betterment programming is effective because everyone is swimming in polluted waters, often made worse by undisciplined giving.

A healthy pond requires “ownership by the community of their community.”  For a community to assume ownership of its own future, residents have to care enough to get involved.   The goal of the  community developer is discovering the unrealized hopes and dreams of the neighbors.  For the past three years, that is what we have been listening for in the Hillside Community where Embrace Richmond has been engaged.  We have found these words from Lupton to be true,

“The dreamers are seldom connected to the resources that provide nutrients to give those dreams life—that is, until by chance or by providence, someone in the village meets a connected person with a heart, a person who has time to listen, a person with both imagination and resources.


Hope, smothered dim under years of survival pressures, begins to flicker once again. In time, after the trustworthiness of the connecting person can be tested, after the opportunity is subjected to ample reality testing, hope can have free rein. It is a dangerous, fragile, exhilarating moment when the poor cast off their restraints and begin to believe. And this transformative moment, more than any other moment, is what the community developer lives for and what the community thirsts for.”


I have been blessed to have witnessed this beautiful reclaiming of hope and faith many times, but in each case it took years of listening, dreaming, encouraging, and investing.  We now have a handful of individuals that we call our “street saints.” These individuals have come from difficult circumstances and they want to help others in their neighborhood thrive.

  1. Charles’s dream is to expand access to affordable housing and employment for those with barriers
  2. Patrice’s dream is to strengthen families by strengthening the sense of community
  3. Rudy’s dream is to reach older youth and help them avoid the dangers of the streets
  4. Denise has a gift for hospitality and cooking and dreams of breaking down the walls of isolation
  5. John’s passion is making sure no one goes hungry in his neighborhood especially the elderly
  6. Joseph’s hope is to help residents increase their economic opportunities
  7. Johnny would like to see people living healthier lifestyles through gardening and exercise

All of these individuals have dreams that they cared enough about to invest in.  They are committed to doing what they can with what they have and are inviting others from their neighborhood to join them in making these dreams for their community a reality.

However, simply engaging people in shaping the future of their community is not enough.  Lupton asks this question,

“Will the proposed activity be wealth-generating or at least self-sustaining for the community?”

This is the question that I have been asking myself a lot lately.  In six months, Embrace Richmond will let go of our AmeriCorps funding which currently provides 75% of the funds that support our community development efforts.  The majority of these funds have been used to provide stipends for the dreamers named above.  I have watched each one of these individuals find new hope, meaning and purpose through the work they have done in the Hillside Community.  Our goal now is to figure out how to help them turn these hopes and dreams into “wealth-generating” or at-least “self-sustaining” initiatives.  As difficult as it was to build this amazing team, I suspect this next step is going to be even more challenging.

However, I strongly agree with Robert Lupton that creating sustainable employment opportunities is one of the most important elements in caring for the spirit and soul of people.  Lupton writes,

“One of the surest ways to destroy self-worth is subsidizing the idleness of able-bodied people. Made in the image of God, we are created with intrinsic worth. And anything that erodes a rightful sense of pride and self-respect diminishes that image.  Life offers no fulfillment without work. Work is a gift, a calling, a human responsibility. And the creation of productive, meaningful employment fulfills one of the Creator’s highest designs. Because of that, it should be a central goal to our service. LITTLE AFFIRMS HUMAN DIGNITY more than honest work.”

Lupton tells a story in an earlier book titled, “Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life”, about a church that started a clothing closet where everything was free and over time that clothing closet became a thrift store that ultimately created jobs.  He also tells the story of a church that took its benevolence fund to start a jobs bank and how a food pantry became a food coop. It is this kind of “social enterprise” thinking that we all need to engage in more.  Making money is not an evil thing.  Creating jobs for our friends is far more compassionate than expecting them to stand in lines with their hands out for the rest of their lives.

To go beyond charity and really get to the core issue underlying poverty, we have to create economic opportunities in low-income neighborhoods.  There is no other way to create a sustainable healthy neighborhood.  How many jobs could be created by churches if they used the funds that are supporting “relief” ministries to create social enterprise opportunities?

I know first-hand that it is far harder to develop neighborhood leaders, create sustainable employment and change a community than it is to simply give handouts.  I pray more Christians will awaken to the fact that one-way giving approaches are harmful but also recognize that they can be restructured in a way that could be life giving to the community if they were turned into community owned social enterprise opportunities.

What relief programs is your church involved in?

How open is your church to restructuring its one-way giving activities?

How could your current relief program become a social enterprise in a struggling neighborhood?

Friday Food For Thought: What Do You Know About Your Neighbors?

On Thursday, CFA Member Judy Van Dyke led a “Community Conversations” group prompted by the recent Peter Block event in West Michigan.  Those gathered around the table shared stories, food, and thoughts on their desire to see their neighborhoods transformed.  Judy quoted one Community Connector, “Our neighborhoods are not under-resourced, they are under-relational.”  So, those gathered around the table began building relationships with each other by learning about each other’s gifts.

Headings of Head, Hands, and Heart prompted attendees to look at their own gifts.  There was a buzz in the room as connections were made…one person who knows about plants connected with someone whose new home needs landscaping.  Others found common interests in cooking and art.  Real conversations were sparked, and people’s gifts were affirmed.

This conversation caused me to ask myself, “What do I know about my neighbors?”  I may know how many kids they have, the car that they drive, or where they are from originally.  But do I know anything about their gifts?   How about you?

Community Events Come In All Shapes, Sizes, and Species

Story submitted by Laura Brenner, LINC New Orleans

February was an extremely eventful month with carnival season, but St. Paul kept the good times rolling by hosting the first annual “Mutts in the Marigny” community event. The event was extremely successful due to the collaborative efforts of many.  The event was even promoted on the noon news at Fox8  and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) assisted the some of the church members in canvassing entire Marigny rectangle and half of the Bywater neighborhood!

Adorable clip art of puppies along the iron fence greeted community members as they walked up to the church with their pooch.  Six service providers and three adoption agencies were on site to speak with neighbors.  A memorial wall was also set up for those who had recently lost a pet.  There were lots of fun dog activities such as a costume contest, an Owner/Pet look-alike contest, a “Pooch Smooch” booth, and a pet blessing.   

It was a great day had by all as neighbors gathered around their common interest in their four-legged friends.  There is already talk of how we can make it even better for next time.  Looking forward to the next community event!

Friday Food for Thought: Gifts or Deficiencies?

Peter Block, author of Community:  The Structure of Belonging and co-author of The Abundant Community:  Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, spoke on March 12, 2012 in Grand Haven, MI.  Here is an excerpt:

“Community is based on a gift mindedness  which means that the deficiency that you might call me is not who I am.  It bothers me when people get introduced, ‘Peter I’d like you to meet  my friend John, he’s homeless.’  I say that’s not who John is.  I don’t show up and say, ‘I’m Peter and I’m housed.’”

“You don’t identify yourself by what you’re not.  The whole deficiency  mindset is what shifts when you start caring about a citizen based society instead of a consumer based society.”


ABCD Resources: Jay’s Picks

Someone recently asked me, “If you were going to recommend three books on Community Development in the US context what would you recommend?”

Here is my preferred beginner’s list:

1.  The team that I work with wrote a book called Communities First - it needs a re-write, but it still introduces the themes I work with today. You can order it here.   I recommend the main text without the workbooks as a starter. The workbooks go a little further into application.

2.  Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton is a book along the lines of When Helping Hurts.   It is a good read and goes beyond naming the problems to proposing solution directions.

3.  Peter Block and John McKnight have an excellent book titled The Abundant Community.

A few more resources (because I can’t resist):

  • A website I recommend for Asset Based Community Development and training is www.mike-green.org.  Mike has been a mentor for us.  Another is www.abcdinstitute.org.  Both sites list excellent resources.
  • Peter Block also wrote a great book called Community: The Structure of Belonging.
  • CCDA’s  beginner’s primer by Mary Nelson called Empowerment. You can find it here.

Asset-Mapping: “What I’m Doing…Is Crazy and Wonderful and Maddening”

The following post was originally published on March 2, 2012 by Sherry Johnson over at A Thread Of Connection.  Sherry grew up with working-class roots and encountered poverty and racism.  Passionate about equity and community, she recently attended a CFA training in Minneapolis, and lives and works in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood putting Asset Based Community Development principles into action.

What I’m Doing…Is Crazy and Wonderful and Maddening

I’m in an incredibly blessed place.

For about the last three years, I’ve been delving deeper into the subject of community: what it is, how it’s formed, how to sustain it, and why it’s so rare in this culture. I tried to form community through charity and nonprofit formation at my old church, which largely failed. I joined with a small but intrepid group of de-churched Jesus-lovers to make a community here on the Bluff. That’s still growing. I studied neighborhood leadership at the Wilder Center for Communities, and its history at Minnesota History Center. I read loads of books on the psychology of community. And I fell in love with asset-mapping at an Asset-Based Community Development Institute retreat in Chicago.

So what the heck is asset mapping? It’s what I’ve been doing on my own for over a year now. I’ve been systematically listing all the assets–all the good things–our neighborhood has. Its places. Its associations. Its institutions. Its churches. And most daunting but important, the gifts of its people.

And lo, in the middle of my scattered slips of paper and to-do lists and Google maps, I was offered a job. Do your dream in 12 hours a week with the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council. Recruit a staff of researchers from underrepresented populations in the neighborhood. Train them. Listen to the community you love.

I keep gratefully asking myself, “Who gets to create their own dream job?”

I also keep following up with the question, “What if you fail at your dream job?”

How on earth does one break through decades of institutional racism and cultural isolation and Eastside melancholy to build hope again? Everyone around me says they “love the diversity” of this community, but then why is most everyone around me Caucasian, despite my efforts to broaden my network of friends and acquaintances?

So I keep contacting nonprofits and churches and friends and clubs, asking for references: Whom do you know in the community that loves this community and wants to see it grow? I get silence and gracious referrals and suggestions of where else to look. And I go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.

Ask, Listen…ACT!

Jay Van Groningen

Talk is action…it’s not cheap. How do you see your role in the story of your neighborhood? What would you improve about your street? If resources were unlimited, what is the first area you would address?  What about your neighborhood keeps you up at night? How would you describe a good neighbor?  A great neighbor?

Start with questions not answers, one of the many principles of Asset Based Community Development discussed on February 24th and 25th at a recent CFA training in Minneapolis, MN.  Facilitators Jay Van Groningen and George Montoya spent two days with 18 participants presenting practical and powerful methods of ABCD as an approach to effective community development work. Participants included neighbors, nonprofit workers, church leaders, professors, agency leaders, and others seeking to develop more connected and engaged local communities. Topics covered included:

Twin Cities Training at Calvary Church in inner city Minneapolis.

  • Methods to discover individuals’ gifts and their voluntary associations, including churches.
  • How to build more community engagement and involvement.
  • Approaches to sustain community organizations and leaders.
  • Ideas for building successful agency-resident partnerships.
  • Finding and mobilizing organizational and community assets.
  • Practical ways to expand social networks and local connections.

In addition to covering the fundamental principles of taking ABCD and community building and organizing into action, the trainers and participants spent time dreaming and believing together. See CFA events page for upcoming training opportunities.

ABCD training activity

Asset Based Community Development: Vision Begins With Listening

ABCD asks “What can this community do itself to achieve its own goals and dreams?”

ABCD is a practice of engaging citizens in the things that can affect them!  It involves finding out, through listening and asking, “What do you really care about?  ABCD engages “learning conversations” to discover what neighbors care enough to act upon.

ABCD adds community development to individual development in order to effect sustainable, long-lasting change.  Community mobilization uses learning conversations, the discovery of “motivation to act” and a connector/leader to bring all of the resources together.


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