Kids Count

Kimi Zimmerman-Community enCompass

When I started surveying last summer/fall, people all over the neighborhood talked about their concern for the kids here. A lot of them had been doing things on their own, but with no neighborhood school to unite all the kids, there had been limited opportunities to come together in collective efforts with others to do something. One week before the due date, I caught wind of the youth grants that the City of Muskegon was awarding to various groups. We had no concrete plans for anything at this point in the ABCD process, but we didn’t want to let the opportunity pass us by without giving it a shot.

I had been having some conversations about ABCD with one of our neighbors, Chris, who had been doing a lot of great things with the youth in Muskegon, and he introduced me to Tawon, who lived across the street from the church. Both of these men had grown up in the neighborhood and were working to rebuild the community they had once “helped make bad before,” as they would say. Knowing the neighborhood and a lot of the kids here, Chris and Tawon did the dreaming and brainstorming, and I did the dictating. What we came up with was a two-week long youth recreation program called Kids Count for kids ages 7-12 in our neighborhood. We applied for the grant through Allen Avenue CRC, but the motivation behind it extended far beyond the church walls. The purpose of the program was to enhance the overall health of our youth with regards to their physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being. At the same time, we were seeking to foster a stronger sense of community amongst the children and adults of our neighborhood. The grant was obviously about the kids, but it was also just as much about coming together as residents, churches and other neighborhood groups for the sake of our community and creating a broader support network for everyone involved.

Within a month, we found out that we had received a grant for $750. Over the next three months, we called on residents, church members from AACRC and other neighborhood churches, businesses and neighborhood groups to come together and join us in collaborating around the youth program. What resulted was a series of six meetings which ended up involving twenty-six residents and members of three different neighborhood churches who gathered to plan the youth program. We were starting from scratch, so our first few meetings had to cover the basics like what exactly we wanted this program to look like, how many volunteers were fully committed to the being there every day, how many kids we would be able to have in the program, how we were going to advertise, what needed to be included on the applications and waivers, how we were going to get the word out, and so forth. Once we were able to lay some of this groundwork, we started working on more details, such as where each day of the program would take place, what time we would start, how we were going to feed the kids, what activities we were going to do, what supplies we would need in order to do the activities, etc. The list of things to do never seemed to end, but neighbors and church members stepped up and took responsibility for everything that needed to get done. By the time June 18 finally came around, we were ready to go.

We were prepared to have 20 kids between the ages of seven and eleven, but we started our first day with fourteen. One of the beauties of neighborhood programs, however, is that each child usually has at least 2-3 other siblings/cousins/neighbors/friends that they will bring with them the next day as long as the program meets the minimum “fun requirement”. By the time our second day started, we were up to twenty kids and had to stop accepting applications from the kids. Activities took place at three different locations around our neighborhood, with each week ending in a field trip. Our first field trip consisted of a four-mile bike ride that started down by Lake Michigan and ended at Heritage Landing, a landmark in Muskegon. The second week and last day of the program entailed a cookout, a dune hike, and a swim in Lake Michigan, which was a first for many of the kids. Over the two weeks, we focused on respect, so we incorporated that value in as many contexts as possible: respect for ourselves-bodies and minds, other kids in the program, volunteers and neighbors, the venues we went to and our community in general. Whether it was in times of laughter or moments of discipline, we used each opportunity to instill in the kids the importance of respect in the way that we treated them and they way we expected to them to treat others.

Kids Count was a collaborative effort between residents and neighborhood churches to build a stronger support network for everyone involved and begin to foster more relationships as neighbors caring about our neighborhood. For Allen Avenue CRC, in particular, it provided our members an opportunity to come alongside of our neighbors here rather than being the leaders and ones in control. Everyone involved was able to bring their individual gifts, resources and knowledge to the table. Individually, none of us would have been able to pull it off; but together, it ended up being a beautiful expression of love for our community, and it’s just the beginning.

“Hi Neighbor!”

Judy Van Dyke–Good Samaritan Ministries

Across the street from Shannon, one of our Community Connector’s, lives an elderly neighbor, Mary.  Mary has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years yet didn’t know many neighbors around her.  Because of this she didn’t involve herself with the things happening on her block.

Shannon took a chance one day and walked over to Mary’s house when she was having a yard sale. This was the start of many times that Shannon said “Hi” to Mary as she walked through the neighborhood. During that time Mary began to hear neighbors yelling, “Hi, Neighbor” to each other on the block. This was also something new that the neighbors started doing together.

One day, Shannon was surprised when Mary yelled out, “Hi, Neighbor” as she walked by.  This was a turning point for Mary.  Over time Shannon was able to learn her name and they had many more conversations.

During that time Mary received a code violation letter from the city regarding the disrepair of the exterior of her home, garage and her backyard.  She also has problems with collecting material items to the point where it was affecting her emotionally and the way she lived.  Through the collaborative efforts of the City of Holland, Evergreen Commons – a local non-profit serving senior citizens, Good Samaritan Ministries and our neighborhood connectors, Mary was able to fix up her home.

One weekend Mary and her husband John, some family members, neighbors, and Shannon picked up rocks, cleaned out trash, and pulled weeds in the backyard.  Next they built a fence, painted the garage, patched concrete steps, and trimmed the house windows.  Since then Mary is more talkative with the kids and neighbors around her. She now has a big garden in the backyard with potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes. She called Shannon over to see the first vegetables of the season, and gave her the biggest tomato to take home. She is sharing her vegetables with the neighborhood and is excited about having a veggie party when she harvests the garden.

Shannon didn’t even realize Mary had a husband before this happened because she never saw him. Now John comes outside and sits in his green chair in the front yard and talks with the neighbors. A simple gesture of saying, “Hi, Neighbor” has made a big difference in the lives of neighbors living together on one small block.  Imagine what could happen if every block started intentionally saying, “Hi, Neighbor.”

** Good Samaritan Ministries provides leadership for this neighborhood site development with four neighborhood churches and a community partner. Two full-time Community Connectors serve as AmeriCorps volunteers to do Asset Based Community Development in this central city of Holland neighborhood.

Connector’s Table by John McKnight

Decide to Create a Connector’s Table. Once the gifts, strangers, associations and institutions have been identified, to become useful they must be connected.  People in the neighborhood must do the connecting.  Some neighbors can do this individually.  Other neighbors may be especially experienced or talented “connectors.” Linking these connectors creates a powerful force for community building.

Find local connectors in the neighborhood. Natural connectors are usually:

-gift minded, seeing the full-half of neighbors -well connected themselves, especially with neighbors and local associations -trusted because of their consistent helpfulness

As you have “head, heart, hand and teachables” discussions with neighbors, ask each who the local connectors are.  Then ask them if they are a connector.  Would they be willing to work on connecting local people?  Would they be willing to introduce you to the connectors they know?

When you find connectors, ask them who they think are connectors (it takes one to know one.) Will they help invite the connector they know to join the neighborhood effort?

Note:  A connector is different from a leader. A leader is speaking at the front of the room. A connector is in the middle of the room linking people.

Our Questions to You: How did you find connectors? Were they willing to join a Connectors’ Table?

What to do with the Connector’s Table: Bringing connectors together as a group creates a powerful means to build the local community.The functions of the Table can include:

-sharing information each has about gifts, strangers, associations and institutions -thinking up where the gifts of each neighbor and stranger can be connected -sharing the responsibility to make the connections -sharing ideas about connections involving associations and institutions, as well  as making these connections or recruiting others to create the linkage.

A Connectors’ Table might have three members or ten, or more.  The Table is always open to everyone in the neighborhood.  Each neighbor should constantly be invited to sit at the table or share in its work.

Our Questions to You: How did you initiate a local Table? What functions has the Table performed?

Question: What are some ways that bring all the neighbors together? Thoughts: An important part of neighborhood building is the experience of all the neighbors coming together and enjoying their creativity and productive work.  Here are several ways all the local neighbors have come together:

Celebrations: -Recognizing children and their accomplishments -Celebrating returning veterans -Honoring the neighbors unsung heroes -Listening to the newly created neighborhood band

Life Events: -Celebrating births, marriages and celebrations. -Memorializing the life of a good neighbor who has passed on

Common interests: Neighbors find common cause in working together on health, safety, children, the local economy, the land and food. These are categories that pull people together to share their gifts.

Sharing neighborhood information: Neighborhoods thrive on information that joins people together.

Create a neighborhood web site: The site can inform neighbors about upcoming events, personal landmarks or family hardships.  It can provide opportunities to share and swap from children’s clothes, to skills to be shared or subjects to be taught.

Biographies: Create a profile of every person in the neighborhood.  Join the profiles in a book to be given to every household and put the information on the neighborhood web site.

Neighborhood history: Create a history of the neighborhood. Gather information from the oldest residents. Involve the local librarian in helping with the work.

Newcomers: Visit the new residents and give them the book of biographies and neighborhood history. Ask them for their own biography and put it on a neighborhood website to introduce them to their neighbors.

Our question to you: What has brought all the people in your neighborhood together? What appears on your web site? What information do people find most useful?

Posted with permission.  See the original post here at Abundant Community.

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.

Keeping a Promise

Sage Hazarika ’14 encourages Lincoln Elementary School students during a special parade.

CFA member Eric Smith’s work with the Promise Neighborhood in Springfield, OH  is highlighted in this article written by Karen Gerboth of Wittenberg University. 

Surrounded by a sea of art-covered walls, fifth-grade students at Springfield’s Lincoln Elementary take a moment to listen to a young man named Sage Hazarika ’14.

A Brooklyn, N.Y.-native and Wittenberg sophomore, Hazarika sits near the center of the classroom in a school that has special meaning for Wittenberg students, for the community it serves and for the families who have entrusted their children to it.

“This is really an important time for you,” Hazarika says. “You are an important part of this school, and all the other grades are looking up to you.”

And in those few words, perhaps even unknown to Hazarika, a bigger vision is revealed as the city of Springfield and the State of Ohio “look up” to Lincoln Elementary as the centerpiece of an innovative initiative defined by one word: promise.

Called the Springfield Promise Neighborhood, the comprehensive, collaborative commitment to ensuring that children succeed academically was inspired by New York-based social activist and educator Geoffrey Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in New York City.

“The reality is that we would not have accomplished what we’ve been able to achieve without the support of Wittenberg and its students. I deeply appreciate the legion of Wittenberg efforts on behalf of the children and youth in the Promise Neighborhood.”

Eric Smith         Neighborhood Organizer         Springfield Promise Neighborhood

Bob Welker, Wittenberg professor emeritus of education and Hagen Center for Civic & Urban Engagement Fellow, visited HCZ two years ago, after meeting with Canada during a special luncheon in Springfield. Canada has led a coordinated effort with hundreds of individuals to establish “a new method to end the cycle of generational poverty” in Harlem, wherein the entire community works with the child from the “cradle to college.”

Featured on the heart-breaking documentary Waiting for Superman, Canada’s work and those of others, caused a “light-bulb” moment for Welker, who along with colleagues in the Springfield community, saw a need for this type of full-scale transformative educational intervention to help the children most at-risk in Wittenberg’s hometown.

Neighborhood meetings, conversations with the Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop, and discussions with parents, social service agencies, community change agents, foundations and Wittenberg quickly followed, and soon thereafter the vision with the power to change young lives was revealed:

“Children lie at the center of all that we do. We understand that our truest vocation as parents and caretakers, as educators and neighbors is to nurture the growth and development of our children – to help them discover and share their greatness with the world. And so we make this solemn promise: We will all come together as partners and citizens in the unwavering commitment to ensure that all our children succeed and attain their highest potential.”

A Call to Action

With the coordinated effort now underway, Welker officially became the project director shortly after his retirement wherein he worked with Principal Mike Wilson and the Lincoln staff to oversee the school design efforts.

“The local school is one of the most important, and often underutilized, institutions in the lives of our children,” Welker wrote in his project outline. “For this reason, every effort must be made to create and support a thriving school, one that meets the needs of all its students and one that serves the neighborhood by becoming a community center. Effective, restorative schools create environments in which staff, administrators, faculty and students can do their best.”

First-Year Signs of Success                  

  • Developed a neighborhood council and neighborhood work teams as an outcome of a listening campaign.
  • Created an aspirational culture at Lincoln, with one administrator calling the new culture one “in which they write books about.”
  • Established a school design team and work teams focused on conduct, academic climate and school enrichment
  • Saw 28 students participate in the summer school program, 60 students in the summer arts program and 105 in the planting of the Lincoln Garden
  • Created volunteer programs through Wittenberg and new literacy-centered schedule

Just as a thriving school leads to thriving students, so does a thriving neighborhood, which “provides the stability, nurturance and out-of-school opportunities needed for the growth of children and youth,” Welker continued.

“With community organizer Eric Smith, a group of residents and parents formed a Neighborhood Association,” Welker said. “It guides efforts to form a stable, out-of-school environment for community youth.”

Among the many opportunities Welker sees with the Promise Neighborhood are (1) the alliance of internal and external resources to install pride in a community that will actually create a new community, which provides social, cultural and economic opportunities for youth and families, (2) the creation of a model school that will stay open longer each day and each year as it develops effective approaches for working with disadvantaged youth, and (3) the establishment of a culture of achievement where all students are expected to succeed.

“This is an aspirational environment, and in this place, students are expected to ‘Be the Promise’,” Welker says.

Motivated by the promise itself, Wittenberg students quickly joined Welker in the effort, immersing themselves in various projects through the Hagen Center for Civic & Urban Engagement, through their classes, or though community service with each participant actively reflecting the Wittenberg mission “…to lead personal, professional, and civic lives of creativity, service, compassion, and integrity.”

“Being a part of the Springfield Promise Neighborhood during my time at Wittenberg has been the most inspiring experience,” said Kali Lawrence ’12. “It has helped me develop a particular slant as a future music educator in urban schools, along with skills to become a community leader.“

Lawrence, who has been exploring funding opportunities for Promise’s long-term vision as well as arts education opportunities for Lincoln students, has now decided to remain in Springfield after graduation to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the initiative. Fellow graduate Lacey Davidson will do the same.

“This effort [seeks to] revitalize the area and foster a culture of success and care so that the children in this neighborhood may thrive,” Lawrence said. “I am consistently amazed at how the community in the Springfield Promise Neighborhood comes together and how Wittenberg supports this project by the involvement of Witt students, faculty and staff.”

Bracelets and Bonds

Wittenberg’s commitment to the Springfield Promise Neighborhood has since led to a bond, literally and figuratively, with many of the students at Lincoln as an April event affirmed.

On that day, April 20, just days before the state’s required assessment tests for grades 3-8, students at Lincoln viewed a video produced by Clark Goodman ’12, which featured him and fellow Wittenberg students encouraging the Lincoln students to study hard and do their best.

“The goal we were hoping to achieve from this event was to allow for a transformation on both sides,” said Kimberly Lykens ’14, a biology major and education minor who joined the initiative because of her passion and interest in helping educational equality and empowerment.

Wittenberg seniors made PRIDE bracelets for the students at Lincoln Elementary to encourage them in their studies and in life

“We wanted the students of Lincoln to know that Wittenberg students believe they can achieve,” Lawrence said. “But, we also wanted Wittenberg students to realize how much the kids need their support in order to believe in themselves.”

Following the video, which ran in each classroom at the newly renovated school, Hazarika and 20 other Wittenberg students fanned out throughout the school with each one entering a classroom to deliver a special message of support in their own words and something else – a bracelet with a personalized note.

“The bracelets are a reminder to students that someone on the track to success believes they can one day be successful, too,” Lykens said. “I never received a letter of encouragement in elementary school, but writing one made me realize that even a simple statement of motivation means the world to these kids.”

Wittenberg students penned notes – one for each student – and shared the meaning of the bracelet with the students.

“The bead bracelets have the acronym PRIDE on them which stands for Prepared, Respect, Integrity, Determined and Effort,” Lykens said. “This is the motto of Lincoln school.”

And it was that pride that filled the halls as the Lincoln students then paraded through the corridors to cheers from classmates and teachers, and numerous signs of support. One first-grade class proudly held a banner that read: “You can do it kids!”

For Principal Wilson, who works directly with the Springfield Promise Neighborhood team as he oversees the current plans for school improvement under the Ohio Improvement Process, the day was both meaningful and heartwarming.

“The contributions made by Wittenberg students and faculty here at Lincoln are immeasurable,” Wilson said. “Their efforts to expose the students of Lincoln to the college environment has opened the eyes of many of our students. These personal experiences have made these children aware of the realistic opportunity that they too can attend college and earn a degree.

“But the most exciting part of this partnership has been watching the individual relationships between the Lincoln students and the Wittenberg students as they grow and develop into meaningful life experiences for all. I would like to personally thank Wittenberg for all of the time and effort it has put into enhancing the lives of the children that need us the most.”

Reposted from Wittenberg Magazine, Spring 2012.  Click here to see original post.

Written By: Karen Gerboth ’93   Photos By: Erin Pence ’04

Six Conversations That Matter: A Quick Review

by Peter Block on July 5, 2011

Tagged as: Gifts / Hospitality / Association

There is a great deal written and practiced about creating new conversations, all of which is valuable and holds the same spirit as what is outlined here. For example, for some time there has been an important dialogue movement to help people understand their own mental models and listen more deeply as an act of inquiry.

The types of conversations outlined here are a little different in that they are aimed at building community, whereas many of the others are primarily aimed at individual development or improving relationships. Plus these community-building conversations are pointedly designed to confront the issue of accountability and commitment.

To open the community to an alternative future, start with the invitation conversation. Since all the other conversations lead to one another, sequence is not all that critical. It’s important to understand that some are more difficult than others, especially in communities where citizens are just beginning to engage with one another. Certain conversations are high-risk and require a greater level of trust among people than others to have meaning. A good meeting design begins with less-demanding ones and ends with the more-difficult ones.


  1. Invitation conversation. Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. Invitation is the call to create an alternative future. What is the invitation we can make to support people to participate and own the relationships, tasks, and process that lead to success?
  2. Possibility conversation. This focuses on what we want our future to be as opposed to problem solving the past. It frees people to innovate, challenge the status quo, break new ground and create new futures that make a difference.
  3. Ownership conversation. This conversation focuses on whose organization or task is this? It asks: How have I contributed to creating current reality? Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power.
  4. Dissent conversation. This gives people the space to say no. If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning. Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and no is an expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy.
  5. Commitment conversation. This conversation is about making promises to peers about your contribution to the success. It asks: What promise am I willing to make to this enterprise? And, what price am I willing to pay for success? It is a promise for the sake of a larger purpose, not for personal return.
  6. Gifts conversation. Rather than focus on deficiencies and weaknesses, we focus on the gifts and assets we bring and capitalize on those to make the best and highest contribution. Confront people with their core gifts that can make the difference and change lives.

Other conversations may also be important, but these six are vital to shift to a future where each citizen, each neighbor, each individual chooses to take responsibility and own their role in shaping the future.


Adapted from Community: The Structure of Belonging, by Peter Block (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2008).

Posted with permission.  See original post here.

Peter Block:  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 Ra… read more »

The Breaktime Bakery: An Ongoing Story of Creative Neighborhood Engagement

Wayne Squires-PiNT

The Breaktime Bakery is a youth entrepreneurship program of New City Neighbors,a small nonprofit located in the Creston neighborhood of Grand Rapids, MI.  For seven weeks each summer, 12-15 Jr. High School students in the neighborhood are taught basic job skills that increase their chances of succeeding in the work place.  A video highlighting this effort can be seen on the CFA website.

The emergence and development of this bakery is, in many ways, a typical story of Partners in Neighborhood Transformation, a regional coaching/training ministry that assists community leaders and organizations in the implementation of asset-based principles and practices.  Several years ago, a PiNT coach guided Fourth Reformed Church through a neighborhood discovery process that resulted in a community-oriented action plan.  The action plan linked a strong youth ministry at Fourth with neighborhood opportunities for youth development and included the formation of a new nonprofit focused on this linkage.  As a result, New City Neighbors was established, with the bakery, a community garden, and an urban farm emerging as key strategies of engagement.

The sustained coaching involvement of PiNT (then the Equipping Church Network of Volunteers in Service) remains in the background, but the presence of those who are skilled in ABCD training, coaching, mentoring, and facilitation has helped create a neighborhood environment of collaboration and participation.  This has led to residents and organizational leaders taking greater responsibility for the development of neighborhood youth and the improvement of physical places.

The Breaktime Bakery recently inaugurated its 7th season.  As  PiNT Coach, I recently sat down with Eric Schalk, Executive Director of New City Neighbors and Leader of Breaktime, to get an update of progress.  Eric reports the bakery continues to build participants’ self-confidence and gives a positive trajectory to many individual stories.  Nearly 60 local students have been involved over the years, and most have graduated from High School (or are “on track” to graduate).  Several have sustained relationships with Eric and other mentors, and some have gone on to local culinary schools to hone their skills and passion for preparing good, fresh food(s).

The challenge of imparting basic skills (i.e. measuring food ingredients for recipes), teaching teamwork, and dealing with conflict is an annual reality, but the involvement of parents and other neighborhood stakeholders has helped meet this challenge and build greater capacity for good work.  Connections have been made to the community garden and urban farm so that locally grown items are used in many of the baking goods and five high school students are being employed as a key step toward a trade school or college education.  The presence of a college intern and volunteer mentors has strengthened relational trust and program efficiency.  Parents and neighbors and local stakeholders purchase enough baked goods to ensure a good-sized net profit at the end of the seven weeks.

Eric is already thinking not only of implementing future improvements but also of fulfilling significant hopes and dreams.  Improvements include developing more mentors for follow-up interaction and providing more structure/resources for job skills training.  Dreams include a big increase in bakery participants, a year-round effort that provides employment for neighborhood youth and adults, and the purchase of a retail space in the Creston business district.  Who knows how long it will take for these hopes to be translated into actual circumstances?  However, one can be assured that PiNT will be a supportive, encouraging presence to Eric and his team at New City Neighbors as they seek to identify and develop the assets, gifts, and skills of those in their community.

Friday Food For Thought: Associations

Associations by John McKnight

Question: Why do associations matter?
Thoughts:  Many neighbors are connected to interesting and productive groups clubs and associations. Many neighbors may be interested in connecting their interests or gifts to these groups. Many of these groups may join the neighbors in undertaking a community project.

Question: What are the types of associations and what do you do with this information?
Thoughts: Here are some ways of thinking about this:

Identify associations of local residents.
Ask people about the groups they belong to.

Our question to you: What types of associations did you find?

Connect the gifts of individuals to associations.
You could connect a gardener to the garden club, someone to a mother’s group.

Our question to you: What connections did you make?

Create new neighborhood associations.
Connect neighborhood musicians and form a band, organize community energy savers from among those concerned about the environment.

Our question to you: What new groups did you create?

Connect existing associations. You can connect a garden club to the local environmental organization or a seniors organization to a youth group.

Our question to you: What associations did you connect?

Question: What can we do with our local institutions?
Thoughts: We can divide our effort into several categories:

Local Institutions.
Many neighbors have connections with local institutions such as businesses, health and human service agencies, police and fire departments, schools, libraries, hospitals, parks, etc. Their connections can often lead local institutions to be helpful to people in the neighborhood and neighborhood people can be helpful to the institutions.

Neighbors’ relationships with local institutions.
Where does each neighbor work?  Is the workplace local?  Does the neighbor own the business? Which other local institutions is the neighbor connected to?

The information about the neighbors’ institutional connections can create two kinds of productive new neighborhood relationships:

-What are the job openings the neighbors know about?
-Are there internship possibilities for neighborhood young people in the institution where neighbors work?

This can be given to all the neighbors through the neighborhood web site, newsletter or the Connectors Table.

-What information did you find about jobs and internships?
-How did you communicate the information to the neighbors?
-What connections were made between neighbors and institutions?

A neighborhood project with local institutions.
All the neighborhood businesses, not for profit agencies and government organizations have potential for productive connections. Neighbors can identify all the local institutions and visit them to find out:

-What kinds of jobs do the institutions have and how can the neighborhood be informed of openings?
-Would the institutions be willing to provide internships for local young people?
-How could neighbors help the local businesses find more customers and  become more profitable?
-How could the neighbors support the work of the local agencies and government organizations?

This project provides great opportunities for mutually beneficial connections between neighbors and local institutions.

Question: How do Connectors sustain themselves and keep learning about this function?
Thoughts: Start by convening a Connector’s Table.

Posted with permission.  See the original post here at Abundant Community.

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: Week 4

By V. Reber

Week 3′s challenge is known as “Head, Hands, Heart” among many who follow Asset-Based Community Development.  The idea is that every person has something to offer, to “gift” to those around him…to his neighbors.  I did this activity a few months ago, and it was strange how difficult it seemed.  When faced with writing down the things I know about, the things I can do, and that I care about…”Eeeeek.”  (And this seemed to be the general consensus in the room.)  So, if you passed on this challenge, take a few minutes and put yourself out there.  Here’s my list:

What does this have to do with getting to know your neighbors?  I had an opportunity to hear Peter Block speak recently, and he noted that we live in a culture that identifies people by their deficiencies and not by their gifts.  I have lived in places where I referred to my neighbors this way, “The ones that play Rock Band at midnight.”  “The ones that never make eye contact.”  “The ones with the dog that won’t shut up!”   What if I had gotten to know those neighbors, their dreams.  What if I had gotten to know their head, hands, and heart?

Last week, one of my neighbors let me know that if we ever needed pants hemmed, or something mended she would be happy to help.  She also asked me if I play the piano, because she would like to learn…it’s a dream of hers.  Another neighbor offered to identify the plants growing in our yard.  After doing this exercise, I also know what I can share.  I’m excited to learn more about the people I meet, and find out where our interests and passions intersect.  Learning names is a great start, but it certainly isn’t the end.  I’m looking for common ground.

Week 4

Question:  Do you know your neighbors by their deficiencies or their gifts?

Challenge: Talk to one neighbor about what they know about, what they can do, and/or what they care about.

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.

The Neighbor Challenge  1 – posted 6/27

The Neighbor Challenge 2  – posted 7/6


Monika Grasley–Lifeline CDC of Merced County

That is what I keep hearing when I coach folks at a community center… and I love the nagging. :-)   Over the last few months the community is coming together to make things happen… all out of a small (1300sf) community center.

Outside it is sweltering hot with over 100 degrees and not safe due to gang and drug violence (at least for now), but inside is another story.  People from all races, ages and economic groups come together to create a better neighborhood.

In this town there are no playgrounds, no swimming pools, no camps … so they do it themselves!  Community members created a leadership team and together they planned out the summer:  tie dye shirts out of donated packages of Easter egg coloring and old t-shirts,  signing up for library cards and participating in the “Dream Big: Read” program, making crafts projects, having water balloon games, and reading are just some of the ways they are enjoying each other’s ‘gifts.’  The participants are learning to eat healthier snacks through a partnership with the County Human Service Agency, they have Boswick the Clown come visit through a partnership with the library, they are planting a small garden taught by a community member, and they go to the movies.

This community center is transforming! There is not only the “Kid’s Time”, but there are computer classes for seniors, ESL classes, and people using the computers to look for jobs and update their resumes. People are sharing their knowledge and referring each other to organizations to take care of some needs. A Spanish Church calls it their home, a NA group meets twice a week, and a Community Bible Study is there during lunch. There are partnerships with groups, and groups using the facility. The community center is a common place, a place of conversation, a place of sharing, a place of belonging.  What started out 5 years ago as a weekly food give-away is becoming a place where people listen to each other, hear one another’s stories, and help each other out.

More exciting for me though are the deeper questions that are starting to be asked: Who is the new chain store employing? Are these local people? Do they sell fresh local fruits and vegetables? Why do we not have a bank in town and how do we get one? How do we work with the police to get rid of the gangs? These are the questions that tell me that a community is changing. The questions are not about personal comfort, not about ‘what do I get out of it’, not about individual issues only, but about justice issues: local employment opportunities, fresh local groceries, equal access to resources. It is about the systemic issues that need to be addressed.

When we talk about community transformation in the Asset Based Community Development framework  we need to talk about systemic change. I don’t think that it is possible to have individuals change without it affecting the whole community.  But if you get enough people to make small choices acting on the things they care about you will notice change within the community. When individuals change and have access to more resources (by building relationships, exchanging gifts and skills with each other) then they are more likely to look at the bigger issues: Why do they not have access to healthier foods? Why is the library not open more hours? Why do the police not respond to calls? Why is there no employment in town?

So when people want more space… we will look for more space… because people are dreaming big: a place to exercise, have classes (GED, literacy, Bible, ESL), designated reading areas for kids, and so much more. As we work in partnerships with schools, groups, churches and other non-profits we know we are all struggling for funds to make it happen… but a recent $20,000 gift for a stipend for a community member to keep the center open longer is a good start.  :-)

Friday Food For Thought: Hospitality

Hospitality by John McKnight

Question: Why is so important?
Thoughts: One key to a strong and satisfying community is the spirit of welcome and hospitality. This spirit powers community by recognizing we need the gifts of everyone, and everyone needs to give their gifts. This calls for a special effort to meet your neighbors who have been marginal or isolated-the strangers in our midst.

Question: How do we begin?
Thoughts: It begins with some very basic questions.

  1. Who are the strangers in the neighborhood. Newcomers, loners, even adversaries.
  2. How do we identify their gifts as the key to connection and hospitality.
  3. How might strangers be connected. Guided by knowing what their gifts are, we can ask what neighbors or associations would value these gifts. How might these people become useful? How do we make the connection?

Our Questions to You:
What strangers have you identified?
What gifts do they have?
How have you connected them to other neighbors?

Posted with permission.  See the original post here.

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.

LINCNewOrleans: Building Multi-Community Coalition

Kevin Kieschnick-LINCNewOrleans

LINCNewOrleans seeks to transform community by crossing lines: neighborhood lines, denominational lines, and cultural lines.  Building a coalition between 4 adjacent urban New Orleans neighborhoods is their goal; Marigny, Bywater, St. Claude, and St. Roch.  These four neighborhoods are very close geographically, (just East of the French Quarter), but very different culturally and socio-economically.  They have distinctly different assets and challenges.  LINCNewOrleans is building partnerships with churches in each neighborhood, and has identified a number of young leaders passionate about developing and strengthening their neighborhoods.

LINC’s vision is to build a “QUAD 4 COMMUNITY COLLABORATIVE” where a team from each neighborhood is trained in principles and processes of Asset Based Christian Community Development.  They will then be coached and mentored by LINCNewOrleans leaders on an ongoing basis, gathering together regularly with leaders from the other adjacent communities to share ideas, strategies, resources, and challenges with the larger community, for the benefit of all.

As these leaders are trained and mentored, they engage their congregations and neighborhoods to asset map their own communities, work with community residents to build new visions for strengthening their neighborhoods, and network within the community and across neighborhood lines to strengthen everyone’s work.  St. Roch may have resources and assets that are needed in Bywater, while Marigny might have human or material resources that could specifically benefit the people in St. Claude; that’s the idea of the networking strength.

Presently over 20 young leaders have been identified.  Together with LINCNewOrleans, these leaders are raising support to travel to the Twin Cities to attend the Christian Community Development Association conference this Fall.  Relationships are growing.  Capacity is being built.  And communities are being transformed!

Monday Rewind: Best Practices–Church as a Gift for Neighborhood Transformation

Originally posted  here in January 2012.

Jay Van Groningen, CFA Executive Director

Over the years, I have noticed that most Christians who get serious about Community Development – serious enough to work at it – try to start the work of neighborhood transformation from a church platform. They hope and expect that a congregation will engage in God’s redemption story in the neighborhood as a lead agent for positive change. They expect that the church will care enough about their neighbors and neighborhood to want to be a lead “player” in the neighborhood redemption story.  They are soon disappointed with Church as agent for neighborhood transformation.  Those who have launched neighborhood transformation from a church platform (be it new church or established church) feel isolated, alone, under-resourced, and disillusioned with church participation. While church is loaded with gifts for neighborhood transformation, their focus and energies seem directed to “healthy church” issues, not “healthy community” issues.

Church can be a good neighbor bringing gifts/contributions to the neighborhood transformation story.  It can be great neighbor – taking responsibility for the neighborhood transformation story. CFA has learned that a best practices approach is to lead neighborhood transformation from outside the church (a non-profit) and to call on the church to bring their gifts (as much as they are willing) in the same way any other institution is invited to bring their gifts to the neighborhood transformation process.  “Healthy church” and “healthy community” is not a problem to be solved. It is a polarity to be managed.  A community is healthier when church gifts are a shaping force; a Church is healthier when as servant/witness it stretches itself in giving gifts for the redemption of the neighborhood it occupies.

Click here to see the original post from January 2012.

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?

V. Reber is a wife, mother, and assistant with CFA who aspires to be a great neighbor.


The Neighbor Challenge 2 – posted 7/6

The Neighbor Challenge 3 – posted 7/11

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.

Opening the Neighborhood Treasure Chest

This post was originally published by John McKnight on January 11, 2011 at  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.

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 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  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.


  • 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.

The “Who” of Community Development


Wendy McCaig–Embrace Richmond, Richmond, VA

One of my most challenging tasks as an Executive Director is answering  the question, “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  When people focus on the “what”, I find they miss the more important question of “who.”  The “what” sounds like, “We helped the residents start a community center that includes a computer lab, a mom’s support group, a food pantry, monthly community fellowship events,  a clothing closet, activities for seniors, an afterschool creative and performing arts program, gardening projects, GED tutoring, vocational mentoring and leadership development training.”  While all these activities meet real needs within a community, the activities themselves are not as important as the residents from the neighborhood who are doing all this work.

When we entered the Hillside Court community more than three years ago, the recreation center had been closed down for several years.  There was a sense of despair in the community.  We heard stories like this one shared by a long-time resident, “Used to be that the recreation center was open to the community and they had all kind of activities for the residents.  Different groups have been in that building over the years;  they always leave.  I don’t believe anything will ever change around here.  I don’t think anyone really cares about this neighborhood.”

The recreation center is once again bustling with activity and over the past three years, we have seen dozens of residents step up and take on leadership roles.   This coming fall, Embrace Richmond will be leading by stepping back.  Our resident leadership team is now strong enough to lead the effort with Embrace Richmond simply contributing the financial and spiritual support they need to keep the center open to the community and thriving.

Above are the pictures of the key leaders who will assume control of the Hillside Recreation Center.  If you ask me “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  I will likely show you these pictures and say, “We support neighbors who build great neighborhoods.”  This is what true community development success looks like, neighbors helping neighbors.

Friday Food For Thought: Abundance and Necessity


from The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, written by Peter Block and John McKnight

“Our communities are abundant with the resources we need for the future.  It is the awakening of families and neighborhoods to these resources that is needed.  Consumer access to all that business professions, and government have to offer still leaves our lives half full.  Community life fills the glass the rest of the way, and this is why a strong local community is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” (p. 30)

The Complexity of the Church Van

Rick Droog–Siouxland Diaconal Conference

From Kurt & Emily Rietema’s stories of life and love in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas published in the February 2012 edition of  “the Minute”.

This past week a neighborhood teenager put a message on Twitter that said, “You know you’re living in a ghetto when the church vans come in for spring break.” I laughed immediately when I heard it. It was loaded with all the pithy irony of a political newspaper cartoon. I saw the van myself. In fact, it was a van of college students coming to serve alongside us. I cringed when I saw the windows, slathered in orange window paint with Jesus-y messages about what they were intending to do in Argentine.  That teenager’s tweet was so poignant to me because it encrypted volumes of social angst, philosophical treatises on  religious crusading, and cultural commentaries on the idiosyncratic vacationing habits of affluent, white adolescents–all in 140 characters or less. She was bringing to the surface tensions that I’ve only begun to have eyes to see by living here among people who, to state it bluntly, aren’t educated, middle-class, evangelical whites like myself. What I think that girl was getting at in her tweet is that no one likes to feel like someone else’s charity case.  She was getting at the psychological damage that happens when you’re living in a ghetto–not simply the obvious dangers of knowing that kids in the neighborhood are packing concealed Glocks, but the more subtle dangers of knowing that some zealous kid is roaming about her neighborhood with Jesus in his quiver and there’s a target on her chest. The subtext to what she was saying was, “I don’t need to be reminded once again through the haloed glow emanating from your white vans that we’re poor and in need of a savior.”

Coincidentally, a week before, a coworker of mine shared an altogether different story about another church van.  My friend grew up in a prototypical biker family if there ever was such a thing. Her parents would leave home with their biker friends, get smashed, come home, go back to low-wage jobs they detested, and do it all over again the next week while my friend and her brother found themselves mixed up in the chaos of it all. Her mom caught her dad cheating on her and did absolutely nothing about it. They’d often come home and find their parents smoking pot like it was as routine as making a pot of Folgers. There was only one escape for her–a church van that showed up at her house every Sunday. While her parents were still strung out, my friend and her brother would be whisked away into another world and into a new kind of normal that was anything but normal to them. When I asked how she didn’t follow the well-ridden tire marks of her parents and the culture they immersed themselves in she said that there was just nothing in it for her. When that church van picked her up every Sunday morning, she was transported into another world where church people, while mixed up with their own issues of vanity and vulnerability, lived in a way that was so much more compelling. The way of her parents was empty and she was never turning back.  All because of a church van. The kind of church van that I’ve had mixed, missiological feelings about.

Two church vans, two entirely different responses by the people who live in those neighborhoods. One viewed indignantly, the other indispensable.  For most of us, all we need to hear is the legitimately moving story of my friend in order to blow off the cultural critiques of the neighborhood teenager. So what if one girl, armed with a mobile phone and a Twitter account makes a witty, sarcastic comment about another’s efforts to live out their faith in sometimes clunky ways? Look at how those same efforts saved the life of your friend. Those church vans save souls. I don’t disagree. Yet the Twittering teen seems to suggest that the unintentional messages that accompany those same church vans about what who they are and who you are can slowly dissolve and destroy the dignity and soul of another.

In a broken world littered with unresolved cultural tensions how are we to live out our faith when our attempts at reconciliation can be interpreted so wildly different? This past week, we loaded up a group of local, Argentine teenagers on that church van for a retreat at Youthfront Camp West that showed the messiness and beauty of both.

The group of boys that we brought with us were the same ones that have come over to our house for dinner, plus a handful more. During one of our first gatherings, we did an exercise where we explored our own stories and how God has also invited us into a story filled with the same peaks and valleys, moments of brilliance and failure as our own. Finally, during our last session, I came to realize that the Argentine that I knew was not the Argentine that these kids in the public housing project knew. We were discussing how the gospel begins to take root, provide a story, hope and direction for our own lives and then spills out into the world around us. As we asked what they’d change about Argentine if they could, they overwhelmingly said they’d change the violence. While I’ve heard occasional gunshots, it’s far from a regular occurrence. But Antonio said a man was shot on his doorstep about a month ago. Nate said kids were shooting at one another on a main thoroughfare in broad daylight after school last week. When I asked what we could do to be agents of change in this, one of the toughest kids finally cracked. “We need more groups like this.” I pushed him on what he meant.  Another kid piped in. “We need more youth to talk seriously like this. And then to be able to get away from it all, clear out our heads and relax like this and have fun”. For the next few minutes we talked about how more Argentine youth would be interested in being a part of a group like this and what we could do about it.  Lester leaned over to Nate and said, “If I hadn’t come and experienced it myself, I would’ve made fun of it.”

And there it was. The complexity of the church van caught up in that one little statement. It’s easy to make fun of others’ efforts to live out the gospel from afar. But the college students that came with us embodied everything that we’ve been hoping to instill. They were honest about their own relatively healthy upbringings in the face of youth who’d experienced more brokenness than we can imagine. They didn’t   deny their differences. They didn’t make them out into targets. They didn’t try to change the kids’ behaviors and make them quit dropping the f-bomb. They realized they were stewarding a much bigger story in Jesus than cleaning up our externals. They realized a subtle presence is more sustainable than one that shouts and screams for attention–even (and especially) for the sake of the gospel. It’s this that speaks louder than any tangerine tinted messages on any church van. The church van. Vindicated.

Four Men Giving Abundantly During Hard Times

Monika Grasley–Lifeline CDC of Merced County

LifeLine CDC has a saying: “Everyone no matter how rich has a need. Everyone no matter how poor has a gift. That is why we build and celebrate community.” ™  We were able to experience that again with one of our partners in Winton, California, a small rural community with over 30% unemployment.  There four men have stepped forward, giving abundantly of their gifts despite hard times.

Two years ago David, a Winton community member, returned to Winton after finishing his 4 year college degree in Business. He returned hoping to find a job but was unable to do so. Instead he started volunteering at the Winton Community Center.  Last year David assisted at the Community Center with the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, and this year he headed  up the program.  The VITA program helped over 70 individuals and families get their taxes prepared for free and brought over $80,000 back into the community. These low-income families had no other way to get their taxes done during these difficult economic times, and were so thankful for the service.

Winton LifeLine Community Center is a site for the Work Experience Program for the County. These men and women work at the Winton Community Center for a few hours a day learning new skills and helping them with the community work.  George and Francisco came to work with the center because they could not find employment. During the many conversations we found that both have amazing gifts in auto mechanics and are generally able to fix just about anything.

The first project they worked on was a passenger bus that belongs to LifeLine CDC and is being used in Winton. This bus is being used for transporting the youth to do the graffiti abatement, assist moving people, picking up and dropping off donations, and transporting senior citizens to special events.

After successfully fixing the bus they worked on several other projects.  As the team talked about exchanging gifts they came up with the idea of having a car repair clinic. What if these men would help some of the seniors get some minor repairs done and teach some of the community members to do their own maintenance … that would be a blessing for everyone! So the plans are being made to have a community wide ‘car clinic’ and the contacts with the Vintage Car Club will make this an even bigger event!

At the same time Chico came to the center and starting volunteering his time.  In his broken English he stated one day: “I will start cleaning your bathroom. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. I will do it for Jesus and I know how to do it good.” We thanked him and he said “No, thank you, you give me purpose again.”

All four men felt useless, unemployed, and under-used and yet in the context of community conversations all got to use their gifts and abilities to help others.

When we say that everyone has a gift, we mean it! So, not a day goes by when we don’t discover one more gift that makes the community richer, that brings the Shalom of God into the neighborhood. When David assists someone with taxes, he blesses the community, when George and Francisco fix the cars they bless the community, when Chico cleans the bathroom he blesses the community. We often hear about the ‘tipping point’  and we are looking forward to the time when the teams slogan “Putting Winton on the map for something good” becomes a reality!


Powering America

This post was originally published by John McKnight on March 1, 2011 at  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 »

In a neighborhood, people are empowered by the work they do together.  Often, they use this power to confront institutions and advocate for the neighborhood’s self-interest.  In this kind of action, power is understood as our ability to get someone else to do something for us.  This is the consumer power of confrontation.

The other kind of neighborhood power results when we come together to create something for ourselves — from ourselves.  This is the power of citizens engaged in community building.

Many of us think of power in terms of the confrontation approach.  Power is about advocacy, demands, negotiation and control.  On the other hand, community-building is often described as “nice and cooperative,” but not powerful.

In our book, The Abundant Community, we point out that there are at least six community-building characteristics of a neighborhood that empowers its residents:  cooperation, hospitality, generosity, kindness, forgiveness and accepting fallibilities.

Each of these qualities is a power and creates powerful results.

Kindness is the power to care.  A careless society is a weak society. It finally descends to callous practices and brutal disregard for its members.

Hospitality is the power to welcome.  A fearful society is frightened of strangers and weakened by its exclusions of the talents of strangers inside and outside its community.

Generosity is the power to give.  Powerlessness is greatest when we are denied the right to contribute and express ourselves.  That is why prison is so terrible, even though food, clothing and shelter are provided. There is no stronger punishment than denying a person’s power to give.

Cooperation is the power to join with your neighbors to create a future.  Every totalitarian system knows that the greatest threat is people working together in groups, small or large.  In those societies, the power to associate is called a conspiracy.

Accepting fallibility creates the power to enjoy each other in spite of our failures, deficiencies and differences.  It creates the glue that holds us together in spite of our nature.

Finally, forgiveness is the power to forget. Many communities have been weakened for centuries because of an event that happened in the distant past.  Until a community or its members can overcome a pervasive sense of grievance, that community will atrophy in a spirit of retribution.

It is these qualities of community that are the basic source of a nation’s power:

  • power to care
  • power to give
  • power to welcome
  • power to join
  • power to enjoy
  • power to forget.

These powers are abundant and available in every community. When they are manifested, they are more powerful than business or government.  That is why America’s recovery as a powerful nation finally depends on what we do on our own block.

~ John ~

John McKnight


ABCD Transforms Street Church Team

Jim Moynihan–OneChurch

Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2011, Street Church sought to develop relationships with the residents of Downtown Hampton, Virginia.  Street Church is a community ministry led by Steve Edwards with numerous helpers from several area churches. OneChurch has been working with Steve to develop ABCD strategies for this community over the past year.  Our major effort was in the Harbor Square apartments, a low-income housing development in the center of the city. During the Summer of 2011, Street Church provided Sunday evening worship services on the grounds, a Summer Vacation Bible School, several clothing and food drives, and conducted surveys in the community. These efforts resulted in good relationships being built with the members of this community, several city officials, and local helping agencies such as H.E.L.P. – a ministry to the homeless of the area, and area churches.

In the Fall of 2011 this effort ended as the weather changed and the city purchased the apartment complex and moved the residents out of the area. Street Church and OneChurch have been meeting to discern our Lords plans for us during this time. As a result, we recently formed a leadership team committed to applying ABCD methods of community development in a strategic manner in this neighborhood. 

This team came together as we sought to develop deeper relationships with those who participated in our Street Church events in 2011. We shared the book, “When Helping Hurts,” with key leaders (about 50 people) which has ignited an interest in our efforts.  This team has committed to be trained in ABCD methods, to study “When Helping Hurts” in a small group setting, and to begin implementation of a consensus plan that will emerge through a Technology of Participation (ToP) consensus workshop in April.  This group of loosely connected but caring people willing to get involved in some “to/for” ministry efforts in a needy community has transitioned into a team committed to learning and applying ABCD “with” methods in a specific downtown Hampton neighborhood for the foreseeable future.


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