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

Signs of Transformation


Wendy McCaig–Embrace Richmond

  “Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.”

Asset-based community development is a long-term process.  It can take years before there are visible signs that a community is being transformed from the inside out.  Jay Van Groningen, founder of Communities First Association, identified a number of visible signs that can help us measure the effectiveness of community development work.  Below, I have taken Jay’s measurements and modified them to fit the language and philosophy of Embrace Richmond.  However, the basic concepts are the same and I want to credit Jay for his genius in putting this together.  Generally speaking, communities move through these stages as they progress through the development process.

A community is being transformed when:

  • A community unites around a shared vision
  • Neighbors use their gifts to help the neighborhood
  • Leadership emerges in the community from the community
  • Residents assume ownership for the on-going work of community transformation
  • There is a growing sense of pride and community connectedness
  • There is less dependence on outside organizations and resources
  • Residents experience a sense of peace and joy (Shalom)
  • Local congregations love their neighbors by supporting local leaders
  • There is evidence of God’s Kingdom breaking through on earth as it is in heaven in the community.

I have been doing this kind of development work for nearly 8 years and I am just now starting to recognize these signs of development and to celebrate them.  We are so trained to think in terms of measurable outcomes like number of people served, or value of services rendered, or number of people who come to the worship service.  These short-term outputs sound impressive but often have no real lasting impact and do not necessarily lead to lasting transformation.

For example, today one of our church partners gave away groceries to 50 families.  In a month’s time, those same families will be standing in line seeking help again.  Today we also launched a “food co-op.”  Through the food co-op, families can work together to buy groceries direct from a distributor at a lower cost and will be able to stretch their food budget. A food co-op is “owned” by its members who set their own policies and procedures. Next month, co-op members will have less need for the food pantry because they are able to buy more with what they already have.  We can serve more people faster through a food pantry where we pre-bag the food and ask nothing of the “recipients.”  A co-op will take more time and more investment by the neighbors but in the end, the neighbors will be able to sustain it with little or no outside help.   This is a development story that has yet to unfold and only time will tell if it is successful.

A more mature story is the one that has been unfolding in Hillside Court, one of the roughest public housing communities in the city of Richmond.  We have been in the Hillside community listening to residents and building up community leaders for nearly 4 years.  What united the community was a vision of a safer community.  After 3 murders in the first three weeks of 2011, the community finally reached the point of being angry enough to do something to change its future.  Resident Patrice Shelton stepped up to organize parents to insure the children in the community were safe and formed the “Hillside Family Support Team.”

That beginning had a snow ball effect.  Patrice recruited Denise and Lindsay to be a part of her team.  She learned that Denise had a gift for cooking and hospitality, so she put her to work helping to build a sense of community within the team.  Lindsay had a heart for youth and Patrice helped her connect with Embrace’s Community Leader program where Lindsay was trained in Asset Based Community Development principles and practices.  Within weeks, Lindsay recruited her husband Tony, who recruited five other adult men to help start a youth football team in the neighborhood, the first one the community has ever had!  The best thing about this story is that Patrice, a resident who cared enough to get involved, is the one responsible for all these residents uniting to make a difference in their community.

On September 1st, Embrace Richmond will officially hand over the reins of the community development work in Hillside Court to the residents and their supporters who will ensure the community development efforts continue.  Patrice will serve as the president of this new expression.  Embrace will continue to provide financial support and ongoing coaching but the residents will assume full responsibility for the future of the development efforts.

Two weeks ago, I attended a community fellowship event organized by Denise and her team of six cooks. They had decorated and cooked for the event and cheerfully served the guests in their color coordinated attire.  Patrice facilitated the entire event and had asked the six men who started the football team to share why they had decided to step up and make it happen for these kids.

One by one, these men shared that they were tired of Hillside being overlooked and referred to as “Killside”.  They were not going to wait around for the city to bring in more programs that they would just cut in a year.  They shared how they did not want the kids to be ashamed of where they lived but wanted to instill pride and dignity in them.  I cried tears of joy as one by one these men shared their heart for their community and their heart for the children of the community.  I have never seen anything like this before in my eight years of doing this work.  I had never even met these men.  The movement has taken on a life of its own!

This is nothing short of a miracle….it is evidence of a little taste of heaven that sprouted up in the most unlikely of places.  The blood spilled in that community has given new life to the community.  It is a resurrection story that needs to be told.

So what does community transformation look like?  Some will look at the 30+ kids playing football this summer and all they will see is children playing.  Some will look at the moms who gather weekly to build a safer community and just see caring parents.  Some will look at the monthly fellowship events and only see the food and fellowship.  I see God making all things new.  I feel a new spirit is blowing in Hillside Court.  Can you see it, do you feel it?

For those of you wondering, there has also been a reduction in the number and severity of violent crimes over the past year.  There is a growing sense of pride in the neighborhood.  More and more neighbors are using their gifts to be a blessing to the community.  It has been a very slow process.  It took years and years of sowing seeds and praying.  Today we see the fruit and it is all a total God thing.  It is a spiritual movement that no human can manufacture.  Hillside is no longer Killside, but Healside might be a better nickname.  We still have a long way to go, but we see signs that God is doing a new thing in this neighborhood.

Where so you see signs of community transformation taking place?

What transformation stories are you celebrating in your community?

Posted with permission.  Click here to see original post.

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.

Communities First: Community Defined

John McKnight

John McKnight – Spring 2012

Video: A conversation with John McKnight during a Q & A session of CFA’s 2012 Member Gathering.

What are the limits of association? How is “community” defined in a practical way? Can the lack of inclusiveness of groups become an issue? Watch the video clip as these questions, and others, are discussed.

Neighborhood Transformation: Hip Hop and BBQ Chicken

Jim Moynihan–One Church, Yorktown, VA

Jim highlights the work of Street Church in downtown Hampton, VA as they meet their neighbors through an event and community listening. One participant comments, “I’m sorry that we haven’t been out doing this for fifty years.”

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.

July 5, 2012 – the day after

Posted on   by Monika Grasley  Merced, CA

July 4th  the day we celebrate independence, the day of BBQ’s and fireworks, the day we remember our history. The day of community gatherings and parades, the day when we come together, often as strangers, to enjoy the park, the beach, the events.

Today is July 5 – nothing has really changed! We are still the same country, still have liberties, we still have a justice system and we still can pursue happiness. So why does today look so different? Why do 24 hours make such a difference?

We all seem to be running; running to get things done, make more money (or enough to pay the rent), running from event to event, day to day, week to week….without ever stopping to celebrate what we have.

We are busy ‘pursuing happiness’ only to find that we are missing out on justice, and that the liberties we have really mean imprisonment for others.

How do we live ‘the day after’ or better the next 364 days in a way that reflects the real values of America? It never was about how much faster we can run to pursue our ever more eluding dream, it always was about a bigger picture.. Justice for everyone, opportunity for everyone, liberties for everyone.

There is so much talk about the welfare system, the healthcare reform, the agenda of the future president, that we often forget the here and now.

When have you looked into the eyes of a homeless instead of handing him a buck? When was the last time you heard the story of a drug addict, listened to his pain, heard his struggles instead of condemning him? When was the last time you helped a senior citizen, not because she was not moving fast enough in the checkout line, but because she had a story to tell that might teach you something?

I am finding myself tired of politics, where people are numbers and only measured by outcomes, where the individual dream does not matter as much as the results that are required to fulfill the grant requirements, where we herd people through appointments and systems only to give them one more handout.

My experience with people is that we all want to pursue happiness, that we don’t always want a handout but want to relearn how to live on our own feet, that there is way more potential and ability in people than we can ever imagine.

That is why at LifeLine we don’t do handouts (except in emergencies) because we know that dignity is more important than hot dog buns, and that their dreams and values are as valid as yours and mine.

So for the next 364 I want to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with a creator God who is for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (although happiness might look much different from His perspective).

Want to come along?

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.

Social Media and Community Building…Part III

CFA Director of Community Based Learning

Brianna Menning, CFA Director of Community Based Learning


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John McKnight: Taking Back Our Children

This video was originally posted at  


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

Friday Food for Thought: Taking Time

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

Opening the Neighborhood Treasure Chest

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


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