Neighborhood Revitalization: Hope (Esperanza) Rising

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Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

I recently worked in three neighborhoods that are striving to recover from decades of neglect and decay. These neighborhoods are very different geographically; yet, they have striking similarities. In Newburgh, New York, LaGrange, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia numerous agencies are taking a variety of approaches; directing their limited resources “at” solving the seemingly intractable problems of poverty, blight, homelessness, hunger and hopelessness. For many – perhaps most – agencies, the overarching theory of transforming (fixing) problems is rooted in programs. Programs are mostly externally resourced by foundations, charity-focused, and limited in scope. Programs follow traditional, linear management models of inputs, throughputs, outputs and outcomes and provide comfort, control and accountability for external investors and volunteers in the programs. Programs are typically sustained only as long as charitable funding is available: a challenge in our austerity-focused economy.

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

Importantly, “some” programs provide emergency food distribution, shelter from winter weather, health care, and more; all essential for relieving human suffering. Unfortunately, most programs overlook the capacity, vision, ingenuity, networks, trust and trustworthiness – the treasure trove of gifts and assets – that reside within and among those who live, work, learn, play, and worship in a community.

In the three communities mentioned above there are, respectively, three agencies that are continuing to do what they do best – developing, restoring, and sustaining affordable housing – while simultaneously discovering, encouraging, and supporting the “gifts of head, heart and hands” among resident community leaders. These agencies are boldly blending externally-developed, results-based programs with relationship-focused, resident-driven Asset Based Community Development, and community organizing. They are collaborating for the “whole” wellbeing (shalom) of the community.

In Newburgh, Habitat for Humanity is working with community leaders to build homes and neighborhoods. Through its Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, staff is devoted to working “with” visionary resident leaders and through its relationship hub, ReStore, it is collaboratively applying Asset Based Community Development. It is a bold move with neighbors and in neighborhoods: hope rising.

Similarly, in the Hillside Neighborhood, DASH for LaGrange is investing staff and resources into listening for resident leadership and supporting those leaders in fulfilling their vision of healthy and whole neighborhoods: hope rising. Like Habitat for Humanity Newburgh, DASH for LaGrange has situated its office facilities and staff in a neighborhood where transformation is taking place.

In a Richmond neighborhood, Oxford House works “with” formerly incarcerated persons to develop self-run, self-supported, substance abuse recovery housing. Residents function democratically and work with neighbors to co-create and sustain affordable housing: hope rising.

DASH LaGrange -Blog2

Photo by Dave Cooper

Within every community (neighborhood) there exists an abundance of often unrecognized and underutilized gifts and talents (assets) of “head, hearts and hands”. Every place, person, family, association, organization, and institution is the possessor and purveyor of its gifts. These assets (gifts) are the buildings, gathering places, schools, libraries, vacant lots, community gardens, tenant and landlord groups, agency programs, political representatives, corner businesses, congregations, school districts and – importantly – the capacity, vision, ingenuity, networks, trust and trustworthiness of residents who live, work, learn, play and worship in the neighborhood.

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We members of Communities First Association (CFA) are practitioners, coaches and advocates for Asset Based Community Development and community organizing. We envision that community is in the process of transformation (revitalization) when:

Photo by Dave Cooper

Photo by Dave Cooper

  • There are signs of increasing local ownership in and by the community
  • There is evidence of a growing sense of community (social cohesion – bonding)
  • Seen and heard is a shared vision among residents in the community
  • There is evidence of increased knowledge, skills, and resources working for shared benefit
  • Leadership is emerging in the community from the community
  • Evidenced are an appreciation for evaluation, reflection and ongoing learning
  • Residents develop and implement their own results based plans for sustainable transformation
  • People of all faith perspectives are collaborating and contributing to community wellbeing
  • Neighbors develop and participate in the community economy
  • Competition yields to collaboration

Connecting Community, Building Hope in LaGrange

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Asset Based Community Developer Ben Wheeler works through affordable housing developer DASH LaGrange and with the coaching support of Communities First Association to connect community and harvest hope in the Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia.

 
DASH has a long track record of partnering in the development and operation of affordable housing in LaGrange. However, facing ongoing financial challenges posed by the Great Recession and seeking a sustainable model of development, DASH is taking a new approach. It invests not just in what it has done so well for so long: successfully developing housing. It is now focusing on the development of neighborhoods in which housing is an essential component. Through place-based, asset-focused, relationship-building, community-led, and collaborative investments among a broadening base of community partners, DASH is uncovering previously unrecognized networks of capacity and hope, and together weaving a strong and enduring fabric.

 

Ben Wheeler and his family live, shop, dine, earn, learn and recreate in the Hillside Neighborhood (Hillside Revitalization Area) and describe it as “four neighborhoods in one”. In this space that holds three hundred fifty families reside affluence and poverty; small business and industry; faith communities and civic associations; single family and multi-family housing. Ben and his family know well the assets and challenges that reside in the community.

 
A walking tour of the neighborhood reveals much. The quietness of the neighborhood is interrupted only by the occasional train horn as freight moves steadily through the community. A smiling old man sits in his front yard holding his puppy. A group of children play basketball in the roadway using a single net. A public school teacher speaks of an at-risk youth that he has taken under his wing. A community garden waits for the coming spring. And, a couple moved by the challenges faced by low-income immigrants are co-creating affordable housing. Here are a long-closed Laundromat, a thriving Big Sams Barbeque, housing, the Troup County Health Department and several churches.

 

On a beautiful fall afternoon, a community pot-luck is held in a space owned by DASH. Here among the people of the community, new resources emerge as people gather and share their gifts. Dean the photographer and small engine mechanic delivers up home-made bread and vegan soup. Deborah shares her love of reading to children and helping to build their self-esteem. Mike is organizing resources to build a neighborhood Montessori school. Jane discovers that she is not the only one in the neighborhood with a Coyfish pond. A youth shares her drawings and her passionate love thereof. Ben Wheeler shares his love of connecting people for the common good.

 
There is much to learn from and grow among the delightful people and the gifts that reside in Hillside Neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia. Thanks to DASH LaGrange, Ben Wheeler, and Communities First Association for applying Asset Based Community Development practices to connect community and harvest hope.

 

David (Dave) Cooper is an Asset Based Community Development practitioner, entrepreneur, catalyst, connector, coach, educator, advocate, consultant and planner. He works nationally and internationally through Shalom Makers to advance and support equitable, sustainable and collaborative community development. Dave may be reached at: dave.cooper@shalommakers.com or my phone: 804.614.6254