John McKnight: Taking Back Our Children

This video was originally posted at www.abundantcommunity.com.  

 

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

Friday Food for Thought: Taking Time

How will you spend your long weekend?  Remembering, visiting, relaxing….?  As you enjoy the unofficial start of summer, take time to consider how you will be intentional about connecting with  neighbors over the next few months.  September is just around the corner!

Opening the Neighborhood Treasure Chest

This post was originally published by John McKnight on January 11, 2011 at www.abundantcommunity.com.  Click here to see the original post. 

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer… read more »

Increasing numbers of Americans are neighborless. They are, in reality, little more than residents occupying a house in an anonymous place.  They often admit that they really don’t know the people who live around them — except to say hello. It is a regretful admission, but in their view of no more consequence than failing to wash the windows of their house.

Failure to see the costs of not having real neighborhood relationships is the primary cause of our weak local communities. And it is this weakness that is eroding our ability to lead productive, satisfying lives in the 21st century.

In this century, we have entered an era when neighborhoods must take on significant new functions if our lives are to improve.  These are the functions that our large institutions can no longer perform, because they have reached their limits.  The medical system no longer has major consequence for our health.  Most police leaders understand they have reached the limits of their ability to provide local security.  An improved environment will be shaped less by laws than our own local decisions about how we heat, light, transport ourselves, and the amount of waste we create.  The majority of our jobs are not going to be provided by large corporate systems.  Small business will be the major job source in the future of new enterprise.   Our mega-food systems provide high-cost, wastefully transported, chemically grown produce that is slowly being replaced by locally produced and healthful food.

Of even more importance is the obvious limit of trying to pay our institutions to raise our children. Even though we say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” we actually outsource most of our child raising.  They have become the children of schools, counselors, athletics, youth workers, therapists, McDonald’s, the electronic industries and the mall.  And we call these villageless children the “youth problem.”

For all these reasons, it is now clear that the good life in the 21st century will have to be grown in the local neighborhood.  Once we see the need for a strong, connected, productive local community, our basic building blocks are the skills, gifts, passions and knowledge of all our neighbors.  It is these neighborly capacities that are most often unknown to us.  It is making these capacities visible and connected that is the basic task of a functioning 21st century.

There are many ways to uncover the productive capacities of a neighborhood.  One innovative approach is illustrative of the possibilities.

In a working-class African-American neighborhood in Chicago, the neighborhood organization has initiated discussions at the block level with local residents regarding their gifts, skills, passions and special knowledge. An example of the information they are making visible is what has been found, for instance, about six randomly interviewed residents on one block.

The six people reported sixteen “gifts,” including being good with kids, a good listener, effective organizer and skilled communicator.

Asked about their skills, the six reported fourteen, including knitting, light repairs, real estate law, computers and cooking.

The twenty “passions” the neighbors reported included skating, correcting building problems, decorating, jazz, gardening and photography.

Of special significance for a “village that raises a child” are the fifteen topics the six neighbors said they were willing to teach youngsters or interested adults.  They include reading comprehension, computer technology, sewing, first aid, mathematics, skating, cooking, real estate and self-esteem.

These six residents did not know of most of their neighbor’s capacities, though they have lived on the block for some time. And no one had ever asked them about their abilities or whether they would share them.

The neighborhood organization has made the capacities of the neighbors visible.  With 30 households on the block, imagine the rich treasures that will be revealed when these “gift” discussions are held with the neighbors in the other 24 households.

It is this hidden treasure chest that can be opened in any neighborhood in North America.  Using these treasures requires connecting the capacities of neighbors. And those local neighbors good at organizing are the perfect local connective tissue.

If you are a person who has discovered and connected the productive capacity of your neighbors, we would like to hear from you.—  And if you are a neighbor interested in initiating the process of opening your neighborhood treasure chest, let us know, and we can share useful materials, and perhaps, connect you to other pioneering neighbors.

~ John ~

Re-posted with permission

Friday Food For Thought: Hope

“Hope is the Holy Spirit-given capacity to see above, beyond, or through the immediate ruin and mess all around us, in order to see the final accomplishment of grace that lies ahead.  Hope persists in seeing the world not only as it is, but as it can become.”  p. 16, Communities First

“That’s because you leave today, not committed to the kingdom of any culture, class, or racial group, or the kingdom of America or any other nation state, or even to the kingdom of any church, …; but rather to the kingdom of God, which is meant to turn all the other kingdoms on the head, to break open the unpredictable, and bring new hope to lives, neighborhoods, nations, and even the world. So God bless you in that wholly unpredictable and so needed ministry of hope.”  –Rev. Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners

Read the entire post here.

Communities First Association Invited to Join Panel Discussion

Jay Van Groningen

Jay Van Groningen

May 9, 2012 – CFA Executive Director, Jay Van Groningen has been invited to participate in the first annual meeting of the Global Leadership Network in Atlanta, GA. The GLN was launched by the Chalmers Center and CEO Dr. Brian Fikkert, Professor of Economics and Community Development at Covenant College and author of When Helping Hurts. The focus of GLN’s inaugural event will center on unpacking the question: What are the implications of When Helping Hurts’ school of thought for Christian philanthropy?

The panel discussion is titled: “Reflect and Effect of the Implications” and is scheduled for May 19th. It will be moderated by Dr. Michael Abrahams, Founder and Portfolio Manager of New Markets Financial Fund & a Global Leadership Network Member. Panelists include:

          Dr. Robert Lupton, author of Toxic Charity,
Jay Van Groningen of Communities First Association,
Steve Perry of Sacred Harvest Foundation,
Paul Park of First Fruit, Inc.,
Josh Kwan of David Weekley Family Foundation,
Norris Hill of Provision Foundation, &
Cole Costanzo of The Maclellan Foundation

Global Leadership NetworkThe Global Leadership Network (GLN) is a community of resource partners committed to informed generosity in poverty alleviation and supporting and advocating for church-centered, gospel-focused, microeconomic development strategies. Members of the GLN empower the Chalmers Center’s mission through contributing a minimum of $5,000 annually. Members of the Director’s Council commit to giving $25,000 annually. More information about the Global Leadership Network can be found here.

inCOMMON Community Development

inCOMMONOmaha, NE     “What if poverty could be stopped before it started?” One of the thought provoking questions addressed in this short clip from inCOMMON. “The solution to poverty won’t be found in programs, but in people.” [email protected]

Ms. Samuels, Peterson Ave, and God’s Glory

Bethany Dudley–Requip

Written by Steve Blom–Imag(in)e, Sauk Village

When I joined the Beautification Committee of Sauk Village this past Summer I saw it as a unique opportunity to be a part of something positive that the community was already doing.  It would be a chance to use my head/heart/hand gift of landscaping, and to develop some relationships.  Little did I know…

As a committee, we re-instated the Hootsie Awards.  This is an annual award given to those nominated by their neighbors for the work they put into maintaining and improving their properties.  As committee members, we were asked to judge the nominated properties in various categories.  Unable to go out with the rest of the committee on a Saturday, I went by myself on a Monday afternoon.  Almost through with the list I turned onto Peterson Ave.

What’s important to note is that Peterson Ave. is “that” street in the Village with the reputation.  It is labeled and avoided.  Comprised of a series of duplexes connected by mismatched siding, boarded windows, and uneven roof-lines people from outside of Sauk Village stereotype the rest of the community using Peterson Ave. as the standard.  My greatest concern was that being parked on the side of the street taking pictures would be viewed by some of the neighbors as another bank photographing a foreclosed home or worse.

“What could anyone possibly do with this tiny piece of property in this neighborhood to be nominated for an award?” was my judgmental thought-of-the-day as I pulled up to Ms. Samuels’ house.  I sat there, somewhat stunned, thinking to myself “THIS is what someone can do.”  A couple of minutes into my note-taking the garage door opened and out walked a woman who is looked at me suspiciously.  I rolled down my window and introduced myself.  Immediately her demeanor changed.  I told her that I loved her yard:  her use of fountains, the pavers and planters, the various ornamental trees and shrubs…”It’s beautiful!”  Ms. Samuels began to cry, looked to the sky and said, “Thank you, God. You have no idea what that means to me today.”  She told me that she understood the reputation of the street she lives on, and that she felt called by God to bring some beauty and peace to this neighborhood.  She shared that she is a breast-cancer survivor, and that she wants to live every day for God’s glory.  This landscape, this simple act of creating beauty, is one of the ways she is connecting with her neighbors.  We talked for a while that afternoon, and before leaving she blessed me with one of those hugs that makes you feel like you are a child being embraced by the Savior himself.

A month later, the winners were announced at the Village Board Meeting.  When Ms. Samuels’ name was read for 2nd place, she jumped over her husband’s legs, danced her way to the front, hugged every person on the committee and the Mayor.  She thanked God not for allowing her to score a touchdown, but for giving her the joy and ability to share his love in this way.  Ms. Samuels’ joy was being 2nd place.  In a room often filled with anger and arguments, this woman from Peterson Ave. filled it with love and peace.

We’re still learning about and developing trust within this community, and we probably always will be, but one of the greatest affirmations up to this point is that God is here in ways I hadn’t imagined.  Despite the labels we are so quick to assign others and ourselves, the evidence of redemption at work is irrefutable.

 

Who Doesn’t Like a BBQ?–Scott and Sammi’s Story

Rebecca Lujan Loveless–POLIS Institute

Scott and Sammi, residents of The Palms Trailer Park in the Holden Heights Neighborhood of Orlando, care about their neighborhood.  When asked what they think would make The Palms a better place to live, they said, “A place where friends and family can gather to barbecue, socialize and have kids play safely.”

They believe that having this community space will bring people together to get to know one another, which will lead to more trust between neighbors and even diminish petty theft and fighting.

“When you know your neighbor and they know you’ve got their back, they’re less likely to pick a fight with you over stupid stuff,” Scott said.

And after all, who doesn’t like barbecue?

There is a grassy area at the front of the neighborhood between the Trailer One Community Center and the Palms Chapel that is not used or fenced in.  The area borders one of the busiest streets in Orlando.  Kids wait for the bus in the morning, playing on the sidewalk while 18-wheelers race by.  The space has dead shrubbery and is riddled with ant piles and weeds.

Scott sees this area not as the “eyesore” that it is, but as a blank canvas that, if treated properly (with the help of neighbors and other donors), could turn into a place where friendships are grown and ideas and dreams are shared.

Scott is a Master Welder and landscaping expert.  He spent time and energy creating a blueprint for a professional BBQ Pit, Smoker and Griddle.  He also plotted out the landscaping plans, soil grading and re-fencing that he says will be necessary to create a space that is peaceful, safely protected from the busy street and able to hold a vegetable and herb garden.

The project can be accomplished for less than $1000.  Scott and Sammi have already been going door to door, to neighbors, with hand-drawn fliers showcasing the plans, asking people to pitch in.  Scott has also called several companies to ask for donations of cement block, sand and equipment.

Throughout the week you will see Scott out in the space leading volunteers from the neighborhood.  The space is taking shape. Fencing has been installed, shrubs and vines and flowers are planted and being watered by elderly women and young kids in the neighborhood.  Scott is committed to seeing this project come to fruition.  Even before it is complete it is already doing what he hoped: neighbors are coming together with a spirit of solidarity, working hard together, sharing stories, meals and ideas.  This typically overlooked neighborhood is becoming a place of hope.  Thanks to Scott and Sammi…and of course a little bit of barbeque.

Friday Food For Thought: Teens and Transformation

A recent post at abundantcommunity.com highlighted the often overlooked giftedness of teens within a community.  We read in the local paper about “troubled youth” and the rising concern over teen apathy, but many teens have found ways to add to the neighborhood story in a positive way.  (And, my guess is that many more would join in if given the opportunity).

The post, written by Laura Fulton, points out the value and energy that teenage youth and enthusiasm can bring to a neighborhood, and five ways to start the process of connecting with teens in your area.  One commenter said that teens in her neighborhood are employed to do community listening and connecting.  Imagine a part-time job where a teen’s voice and ideas are heard, creativity and socializing are viewed as gifts, and relationships and leadership skills are formed.  Sounds like a perfect match!

Teens today are often typecast as surly, disinterested, and uninformed.  I challenge you to talk to a teen in your neighborhood. Ask about their interests, about what they see that works and doesn’t work, and what they would do to change things.  Listen.  Listen.  Listen for their gifts and passions, and begin to rewrite the character description of young people in your neighborhood’s story.

Community Abundance Is Its Gifts

This post was originally published by John McKnight and Peter Block on April 26, 2012 at www.abundantcommunity.com.  Click here to see the original post.

Abundant communities start with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life.

When we and our neighbors know of each other’s gifts, new community possibilities emerge. For example, the community can play an important role in rearing children and helping them to learn about their own abilities and what it means to be a contributing member of society. . . . By naming and exchanging our individual gifts, capacities, and skills, we open new possibilities to the family and neighborhood.

The Power of Our Gifts

When we choose to make visible the gifts of those around us, we discover several things.

First, working together we begin to take creative responsibility for our families and our lives. We begin to make our neighborhood safer, healthier, wiser, richer and a much better place to raise a family. Instead of feeling alone and overwhelmed by our family dilemmas, we begin to connect with other parents, children, youth and senior by extending our families. We feel the comfort, help, pleasure and tangible support from those surrounding us.

Second, as we share our gifts, all kinds of new connections and relationships are created. We cross lines once drawn between youth and adults, seniors and juniors, the frail and the able. We become a competent community, a group of specially related people.

Third, we begin to understand the limits of money. Our community inventions usually cost little to nothing, and yet they become treasures. We see that you can’t buy more safety, health, wisdom or wealth. But together we can create them. We feel less burdened financially and less dependent on outside institutions. We are finding the citizen way.

Fourth, as we create a future together, we find a new kind of trust emerging. Our neighbors become people we can count on. And they count on us. A profound sense of security begins to emerge.

Fifth, we feel powerful. We find our own way, and that sense of power leads us to hold celebrations, acclaiming our successes while recognizing our frailties and those among us who have passed away.

Finally, we begin to create a history together. We can tell our story. We know how to join in educating our children. We have learned how to engage our old people. We write our own story, and we would love to share it with your neighborhood because we also can learn from your way.

The Power of Associations

Gifts become useful when they are connected to the gifts of others. Connected gifts create associations. Connected citizens are in association and create associational life. This certain kind of connecting is the key to creating abundance in community.

In Democracy in America (1835, 1840), Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first to recognize that our associations were central to our democracy. Voting, he observed, is vital, but it is the power to give your power away—that is, to delegate your will to a representative.

An association, on the other hand, is a means to make power rather than giving it away. This new associational tool involved using these community powers:

  • The power to decide what needs to be done. This power is not delegated to experts. It is based upon the belief that local citizens, connected together, have the special ability to know what needs doing in their community.
  • The power to decide how we could do what needs to be done. Here again, local knowledge is the basic expertise.
  • The power to join with one’s neighbors to do what needs to be done.

The association is the tool that allows us to produce the future we envision. A citizen is a person with the awesome power to determine and create a common future. And so it is that the association makes citizenship possible. It empowers us because neighbors can decide what needs to be done and how it can be done—and, of greatest importance, they are the people who can do it.

In associations we are not consumers. We are not clients. We are citizens with gifts and the power to make powerful communities.

~John and Peter

John McKnight is emeritus professor of education and social policy and codirector of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the coauthor of Building Communities from the Inside Out and the author of The Careless Society. He has been a community organizer and serves on the boards of several national organizations that support neighborhood development.

In addition to The Abundant Community, co-authored with John McKnight, Peter Block is the author of Flawless Consulting, Community, Stewardship and The Answer to How Is Yes. He serves on the boards of Elementz, a hip hop center for urban youth; Cincinnati Public Radio; and LivePerson. With other volunteers, Peter began A Small Group, whose work is to create a new community narrative and to bring Peter’s work on civic engagement into being. Peter’s work is in the restoration of communities and creating systems that restore our humanity. He is a partner in Designed Learning, a training company that offers workshops he has designed to build the skills outlined in his books.

Related:

  • The Club Is Not the Club (Peter Block)
  • Powering America (John McKnight)

Excerpt adapted from “Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods,” Chapter 6 in The Abundant Community, pp 119-126.

Friday Food for Thought: An Oath

From Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity:

The Oath for Compassionate Service

  • Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said–unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above all, do no harm.

p. 8-9

CFA encourages the consideration of these questions as you look to serve with the community:

  • Who has the power?
  • Is there a level playing field?
  • Is the relationship equitable?
  • Who is the beneficiary?
  • Is it empowering?  For whom?
  • Which is most likely to produce sustainable change?

The Lesser Defines What Community Is

Reblogged from Brown Consultancy, LLC:

“Body” was a term which the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians used to describe the Body of Christ. This term, Body, was used by the Roman Empire to explain how diverse its empire was.  It showed how each member of the Roman Empire had their proper place.  So, if you are a hand of the “Body,” do not seek to serve other capacities within the empire. 

Read more… 606 more words

"In organizing asset mapping projects, the process seeks to give place to all members of a community or possibly, members within a group or mini-community. The asset process seeks to bring forward the gifts and talents and access people have to others, which heretofore have not been utilized by the community to strengthen its capacities."

A Transformational Step in South Phoenix

Jeff Bisgrove–Neighborhood Transformation, Phoenix, AZ

Fifty people painting a church, a simple event.  One that on its surface doesn’t look all that important, and is not often something we associate with community transformation.  Churches are generally not part of the community in our society, and besides isn’t painting somebody else’s property relief and not really development?

All these points are valid, but if you look deeper into this effort to paint a church, you see a bit more.  The church that was painted has a small and aging congregation.  Their ability to paint their own church was rapidly getting beyond them as the years flew by.  However, the people at the church are involved in the community and are well-regarded by the community, and the community decided they would help paint the church.  Further, they invited their friends from outside South Phoenix to come and help.  So they did.  Together.

Black, Brown, White…the colors mixed together as the paint flowed onto the walls. Young, old and in-between; people from 2 years to 75 contributed.    Many of the people knew each other, since they had worked together on other things in this community over the years.  Painting this community church was another thing they did together.

David Bennett moved into South Phoenix five years ago, with the intent to be in the community, walk with the community, and help the community reconcile and grow.  This area of South Phoenix is riven with gangs, often divided along racial lines.  Black people do not like Brown people and vice versa.  White people avoid the whole thing and do not even drive through south Phoenix.  Against this backdrop, David started to work.    He helps mentor and teach the local kids; walking with them  and their parent(s) to help catalyze them to be more involved in their community.  He involves people from outside South Phoenix to help break down prejudice and further God’s reconciliation.

And this is where the effort is today.  Brown people helping Black people helping White people to paint a community church because the church congregation cannot do it themselves and the community has compassion for them.  This compassion has spread beyond the community to their friends around the city.  No shooting.  No slurs, or gang colors.  No driving the long way around to avoid it.  Simply working together.

This community in South Phoenix, seen by most people in Phoenix as ground zero for police calls, shootings, gang banging and drug activity, is showing more.  More of what God placed there.  It is showing respect, compassion and love for the things that make up the community. It is not the end.  It is a step… a transformational step.

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