Friday Food for Thought: Gifts

Gifts by John McKnight

Question: If we want to create a more powerful neighborhood, what information do we need?
Thoughts: To bring neighbors together there are three kinds of useful information. We have to discover our neighbors’ gifts. We have to seek out local strangers. Finally we need to find out the groups people belong to, the institutions where they work or have connections. We start with the gifts.

Question: How do you find out this information?
Thoughts: You may want to find this information in a visit with individual neighbors or calling a meeting of several neighbors.

Question: If I decide to talk to neighbors, what do we discuss?
Thoughts: It can begin by uncovering the gifts of your neighbors. Here are some ways of thinking about this.

The kinds of gifts: There are four kinds. Three are practical. They are gifts of Head, Heart and Hand. The fourth is what you are willing to teach.

Head is knowledge. Do you know about history, language, who lives in that house.
Heart is passion. Love of children, prayer.
Hands is your skills of any kind. Carpentry, handyman, guitar, planning a garden. It is all you can do.
Teachable. What allows the gifts to build the neighborhood is our willingness to teach others.

(Resource: Guide to Capacity Inventories)

Question: How do we ask neighbors about their gifts?

This is not as easy as it might sound.

Your Introduction. Decide whether or not you want to phone a person to get together or knock on their door. Is there someone who will go with you? Friend, family member.

Three Ways to Open the Conversation:

  1. Reference. You are referred by someone. Mary said I should talk to you.
  2. Excuse. You have a specific purpose or excuse. How we can help the kids.
  3. Social. We thought it would be good if we got to know each other better. An invitation;  I would like to invite you and some others for lunch or dinner or picnic so we can meet each other

Re-posted with permission.  Click here to see the original article.

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.

The Neighbor Challenge

Written by V. Reber

Mr. Rogers had it right when he sang, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”  While Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was idyllic, many of the elements of the show highlight basic principles of Asset Based Community Development. He spent each half hour highlighting the gifts of his neighbors, asking them questions, and learning what was important to them.  Neighborhood problems (make-believe or not) were solved by those in the neighborhood using teamwork and service to one another.  It’s not a stretch to say that this popular icon of my generation was encouraging the type of neighborliness that we talk about, teach about, and hopefully model.

So, where have all the neighbors gone? Have we forgotten how to be neighborly, or simply decided there’s just no time?  I’m asking myself a lot of these questions as our family settles into a new neighborhood. Join me on this journey as I challenge myself (and you) to an honest assessment of ourselves as “neighbor.”

Week #1

Question:  What are the names of your neighbors?

Challenge:  Draw a diagram of your street with each house represented by a square.  Now label as many houses as you can by family name.  (If you’re really brave, draw the surrounding blocks as well!)

Next week I’ll share how I did…what did you discover?

CFA Open Position Announcement

Holland, MI – Immediate Release – June 14, 2012

Communities First Association has an open full-time position for: Executive Director. Qualified applicants will provide leadership and direction for national, faith-based association focused on developing neighborhood based leadership and change through an Asset Based Community Development strategy. Critical areas for outcome/impact activity include systemic justice change, national collaborations, building board and organizational capacity and building donor relationships. Qualifications include BA or MA degree in leadership, management, community development, or related fields and three years experience in program leadership, administration, fund development and supervision. Send cover letter and resume via e-mail to CFA Search Committee c/o Bill Raymond at [email protected] by July 6, 2012. Please see JOB DESCRIPTION for more information.

Night of Thanksgiving and Farewell with George!

George and Bobbie Montoya “Congratulations!”

George Montoya – “Thank you for your serving with a giving heart!”

Aging at home: New Project Starts with Community Assets, Not Needs

Tayler Nelson, a Richland Middle School student, helps Ruby Hart, left, and Hellen Tenny, both of Richland Center, learn to use cell phones.


–University of Wisconsin-Madison

 Students tend to fret when they are “invited” to the principal’s office, and last April Tayler Nelson was no exception.

When she and nine other students at Richland Middle School in Richland Center, Wis. were invited to David Guy’s office, she wondered, “What are we in trouble for?”

But instead of a rebuke, Guy had a request: could the students help older adults learn the digital technology that is so intuitive to teens, but so irritating to elders? And could the students decide how to do it themselves?

“We thought it would be a good idea to help mature adults use technology, but we had to figure out how to do it,” says Nelson, who has now graduated eighth grade. At the meeting, Steve Kohlstedt, Richland County agent for University of Wisconsin Extension, told the students that seniors can feel left out and isolated, especially in a rural area, and he challenged the students to figure out a way to reverse these harmful trends.

The result was a “Technology Expo” on May 29 and 30, where 67 middle-school students helped as many as 100 elders — including some of their own grandparents — with cell phones, Facebook, Internet searches, photo scanning, and other staples of the digital world. Facebook, iPads and YouTube were particular favorites among the elders.

All the teaching was done one-on-one, using techniques and technologies chosen by the students themselves.

The expo is an example of a striking new trend in community development, says Kohlstedt. “Asset-based community development does not start from needs but rather from assets. You take a look at what you have, the talents and knowledge, and incorporate them in a way that can make a difference.”

Technology Expo was one element in the Active Aging Research Center, a statewide project funded by the federal Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and headquartered at the CHESS Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Asset-based development heeds four principles, says Tom Mosgaller, director of change management at CHESS. “You start from the bottom up, it’s community-led, strength-based, always acting with an emphasis on the community; their interests are the center of our activities.”

The broad goals of the effort in Richland and nearby counties, Mosgaller says, were determined locally: to help older people remain in their chosen homes, to increase socialization and reduce isolation.

“They were really interesting in bridging the gap with elders; this came up several times in our discussions. And they were excited to share something they feel very comfortable with, to be part of involving the middle school with the community.”  David Guy

According to David Gustafson, a professor of industrial engineering who founded the CHESS Center and leads the active aging center, “To meet the overall goal of keeping elderly people in their homes and out of nursing homes, we are addressing five key areas: falls prevention, safe driving, improving the dependability of home-care services, reducing loneliness and isolation, and improving medication adherence.”

The active aging project is also working in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

Gustafson, a pioneer in the use of computer technology for health-care information and decision-making, says the project will develop problem-solving software and equipment by exploiting expertise at UW-Madison and elsewhere.

“For example, we might create a cane or a walker containing an RFID [radio-frequency identification] chip. If the cane and its user become separated by more than three feet, the cane might sound an alarm. A lot of elderly people tend to leave their canes and walkers behind, and that causes falls,” Gustafson says.

Falls among the elderly are a major cause of broken bones that lead to a cascade of medical problems, loss of mobility, and often force an unwanted move to a nursing home, Gustafson explains.

Meanwhile, back at the middle school, a smiling David Guy likes what he sees. One of his goals was to promote leadership skills among his students, and it’s clear that they have brought to the Expo enthusiasm — and also dedication and organizational talents.

Many of the kids already had experience volunteering with the elderly, Guy says. “They were really interesting in bridging the gap with elders; this came up several times in our discussions. And they were excited to share something they feel very comfortable with, to be part of involving the middle school with the community,” he says.

Lori Ward, of Muscoda, had brought some questions to the expo, and she left satisfied. “I’m learning how use a computer and a cell phone, and I would come again, definitely. This was very helpful,” she says.

Click here to see original post published on June 8, 2012.  Re-posted with permission.

Social Media and Community Building…Part III

CFA Director of Community Based Learning

Brianna Menning, CFA Director of Community Based Learning


Brianna Menning is the Director of Community Based Learning for CFA.  Click here to see the original post from June 6, 2012.

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point recently, and have found it fascinating for what it says about the way we are connected (if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it). There are types of people in our lives– connectors (people who know lots of people), mavens (people who accumulate knowledge and control word of mouth epidemics), and salespeople (people with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing). I believe we need all three to make our communities successful. But, these types need to be engaged in both types of networks– online, and in-person local networks to be effective in engaging in community development and creating lasting change.

How do we create change is the bottom line for me. We need to find ways to create group dynamics where we engage one another in person, but recognize that valuable conversation takes place in a variety of formats. One of our largest deficits currently is the lack of connection within the generation gap, the socioeconomic gap, the racial gap, and within the digital divide. People can be more connected and more isolated simultaneously– and it is happening– everywhere. For all of our (relative) economic wealth, we are still missing something (read Reframing the Global Economy to Include Happiness if you haven’t yet).

How do we get people to seriously engage in their neighborhoods, in their cities? How do we take these steps to get them to seriously engage one another on a personal level? Our society functions best when we work together, but somehow that has been happening less and less. But, there is a resurgence in the desire for communal living, and care for our cities (check out this article)– this is great, as long as we aren’t simply moving the isolated, the poor, the disconnected members of society from isolation in our cities to isolation in the suburbs (continuing a cycle of “otherness” and us v. them that is unhealthy, and doesn’t lead to problem-solving.

There are real problems that need to be addressed– systemic issues that lead to generation after generation in poverty. Poverty is not just a financial status though, it can be viewed as a stamp on your forehead– as Peter Block stated, we talk about homeless people as a large group through their housing status– defining them by what they do not have– we never introduce ourselves as, “I’m Brianna, and I’m housed.”

Why do we define people by their possessions (or lack thereof)? Does this make any sense to anyone else? Why can’t we change our language and our rhetoric to address the real issues– the problems within the American Experiment that can’t be addressed by systems? The problems that need the human element to take the lead. How do we partner institutions and individuals better? How do we listen better? Listen first? Listen longer? How do we find the connectors and the mavens to connect ideas?

I want to know how we can move from the top-down, bottom-up rhetoric of today’s society, and instead move from side to side (as Frances Hesselbein explains in her book). Why is it that power is up rather than centralized? How do we allow the voices to be heard not just through the voting process, but through creating more listening sessions that are accessible to everyone, where people’s voices can be heard? How do we make sure that action is taken around these ideas? How do we make sure that the ideas aren’t only heard, but funded? How do we give power away in order to create more balance in our society?

These are the questions that I’m interested in looking at– and why I’m working on funding community connectors, to help connect neighborhoods, and ultimately, create a more just society for everyone. How are you addressing these issues? What ideas do you have for how we can continue addressing them? What’s the craziest thing you’ve thought of to address this, but haven’t yet told anyone?

Let us know here through comments, or email me (brianna[dot]menning[at]gmail[dot]com). I like sharing crazy ideas and dreaming big– it’s the only way real change happens!

Working Together as God’s One Body

Kevin Kieschnick–LINCNewOrleans

Often Christian churches are hesitant or unwilling to cross denominational lines. We praise God that’s not the case in urban New Orleans. On Saturday May 19th, some 75 people gathered from three neighborhoods and three congregations to join together in a time of fun, games, and relationship! People from Journey 9th Ward on Alvar Street in the St. Claude neighborhood were there, as well as folks from Grace Baptist on Rampart in the Bywater, and St. Paul in the Marigny.

People from all three churches brought food and drinks to share. Some St. Paul folks organized games for the kids that were there, and the neighborhood enjoyed the smell of freshly grilled burgers and hot dogs. There was fried chicken, red beans & rice, German potato salad, and lots more!

Leaders from the three churches say that they hope we can make this a regular event, so that relationships can be initiated and grow, and we can work together as God’s one body to share the love of Jesus with the people in our adjacent neighborhoods. Thanks to all who put time and effort to make this such a special event, as well as all of who came to support the event! See you next time!

A Fishing Analogy

What are the ministries or activities that you and/or your church have done in response to poverty in your community? 

Take time to list the activities and/or ministries that come to mind, and then consider the analogy below.  The purpose of this analogy is to answer the question:  What is Community Development?

We suggest it is a rich mix of activities and programs in EACH/ALL of the six categories.  The right mix is the mix that a community decides is best for them. 


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