When applying for a job, you normally do some research about the company, right? Researching a community is just as important. Often, we as helpers are so eager to jump into working with a community that we forget to take a step back and assess our process of entering a community. This post will invite you to consider a few things before beginning your work.
Points of Entry
In order to enter a community, some point of entry is required. This is sometimes a person or organization that you have a connection with. Sometimes, you will have to work to build this connection. This stage is the first and arguably most important stage in this process. Building rapport will be discussed in more detail in my next post.
We also forget to take a step back and ask “Am I needed in this community?” Unlike jobs who post their needs on Indeed.com, communities are not always reaching out for assistance. To better understand the need you would want to do a needs assessment. The best research is done by asking the people who live there about how they perceive the need. You cannot force a community to want to work on an issue in their community that you identified. The community may not be ready for change around that issue. Meet the community where they are. Not allowing for these elements can result in wasted resources, the under-utilization of services and the stripping away of a community’s right to self-determination.
When you are applying to a job you may be interested in what your coworkers are like and what their role is. In regard to community, you should be aware of existing programs or agencies that already doing work in the area related to the identified need. Maybe you coming into that community would mean a partnership with existing organizations. However, be careful of over saturating a community with services which can lead other communities being under-resourced. Additionally, be aware of the existing and often overlooked skill sets that are in the community. For example, one resident may have a background in landscaping. You may want to bring that resident on your planning team for a community garden you are trying to implement. To justly enter a community is to utilize existing talent. You should also identify the community leaders who are already working on the issue. Sometimes you’re role may to be help this leader further the work by leveraging resources. Sometimes your role will be to be a connector between existing leaders, groups and organizations. Justly entering a community means being okay with leading from the back or working with and not for.
So less of this
And more of this
It is important that the values of your organization align with the values of the community. If they do not, is there a space where the two values intersect? It is easier for conflict or distrust to occur between community and organization when the two sets of values never overlap.
Many new job applicants want to know what kinds of customers the company serves. This is similar to understanding the demographics of the community you plan to work with. However, simply knowing the demographics is not enough to justly enter a community. Find out the flavor of the community. Who are the majority? Who are the minority? What is the history of the neighborhood? Does this have any impact on who lives in the community today? Who might live there in the future? Find out where the residents shop. Find out what it looks like when they are joyful. How do they react when they are hurt?
Finally, being trauma-informed is so important in justly entering communities. Many communities have experienced some form of trauma whether it is the rate of violence, burdensome physical design, or policy that caused gross disinvestment.
Sometimes there have been cultural assaults on communities created through policy decisions. Consider the redlining practices of the 1930s that devalued many thriving African American communities. (Visit this link to learn more on redlining http://dsl.richmond.edu/holc/ ) Sometimes trauma can make entering a community difficult. It means being more sensitive to what community has been through and intentionally considering past assaults before and during the work you are performing. Richmond has a Trauma Informed Community Network that is working to help organizations carry out trauma-informed work.
These are things to consider even before beginning work in a certain neighborhood. It seems like a process in itself, right? It is. It’s the planning to plan. The nod of approval from community is one that I am still trying to figure out. So far, I think it looks like you being asked to partner with an organization. It looks like a client applying for design assistance on your website. It looks like a community leader seeking your consultation. It looks like a resident filling out an application for your service. Sometimes it looks like you coming from a well thought out and sensitive approach when asking to enter a community. Keep justice in mind each and every time you enter a community.
This conversation was brief so please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
WHAT DOES TRUST HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Building rapport and taking care of relationships
HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE STRENGTHS? HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE NEEDS?
Understanding why recognizing resiliency is just as important as identifying the problems when assessing a community
WHAT IS AN INTERVENTION WITHOUT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT?
Examining why community engagement is the basis for an effective intervention
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT WORKED?
A summary of ways to evaluate community interventions and practice.