The light of a New Day in a little country way

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It is a place of stark contrasts, awesome opportunities and some mysteriousness. A tiny speck in the midst of 1.7 million acres of natural, protected beauty, the little community is surrounded by mountains and blanketed by a one-of-a-kind National Radio Quiet Zone in which cell phones fall silent. It is a place of rich history; located in a county named after a Native American chief’s daughter: Pocahontas.

Green Bank Radiotelescope

Green Bank Radiotelescope

If this isn’t enough to add to the mystique of the place, consider a few more facts. A few miles away, the largest Radio Telescope in the world – yes the world – is ever-listening.

A scenic mountain railroad system with a station in the community carries the trademark from a popular family movie – The Polar Express. Tourists from as far away as Australia and Japan ride these rails.

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

Durbin Rocket (Durbin Greenbrier RR)

There’s more…

The tiny mountain community, in the early 20th century, was at the center of the largest shoe leather tannery company in the world. Clearly, this place lives at the crossroads of an aged past and a birthing future.

From the shadow of its robust past, Durbin, West Virginia, with its 124 households, a hearty group of dedicated townspeople, a handful of entrepreneurs, congregational leaders and one affordable housing developer, neighborhood revitalization is emerging from the collective vision and shared assets of residents and their connector leaders.

Durbin, West Virginia is participating in the Habitat for Humanity International Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Asset Based Community Development consultant/coach, Dave Cooper of Communities First Association, worked with the Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate and over 60 Durbin townspeople for three days in a process of discovery, formation and visioning. For the first

Gifts of Hands (doing)

Gifts of Hands (doing)

two days, Cooper facilitated neighborhood walking and listening sessions with diverse arrays of residents, business owners, church leaders, and local and county government representatives to identify community connector leaders, to listen for community dreams, and discover assets of head, heart, hands, associations and place.

Next, Cooper facilitated a large gathering of Durbin townspeople in a creative, relationship-building process of developing community dreams into vision statements, discovering additional assets, and coaching local leaders in participatory planning processes.

Vision for Library

Vision for Library

 

At the conclusion of the three days, the community had narrowed their vision and organized some assets to focus on a new public library (already in progress), to create park space that could be safely accessed by children, and to revitalize downtown Durbin through economic development. The Almost Heaven Habitat affiliate committed staff to coach the formation of a resident-led economic development team and to coordinate affordable housing resources. A local entrepreneur committed to work with the economic development team. A pastor committed land on which to develop a children’s park. Others dedicated various gifts of head, heart, hands, place and associations to improve the quality of life – to raise Durbin from the ashes of its past; to achieve common good in the neighborhood.

The three day engagement facilitated by Cooper in this little mountain community of Durbin, West Virginia is one way to catalyze and commence Asset Based Community Development for Neighborhood Revitalization. However, the processes of building relationships, listening for and discovering assets, participatory planning, and working to achieve results from the plan require substantially more time and patience.

Durbin, West Virginia is a tiny speck of a community that, upon close inspection, yields a vast array of contrasts and awesome assets. Its residents are ruggedly committed to an improved quality of life in a revitalized community and they hold steadfastly to hope in a bright future.

The light of a New Day in a little country way

The light of a New Day in a little country way

 

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