This piece is taken from something I wrote quite a while back - and has the benefit of input from many people throughout the NeigbhborWorks Network... It remains the 'intro' to NeighborWorks America's www.nw.org Community Engagement Professional Certificate Program... I thought it'd be particularly relevant to our work in Silver Spring
Community Building, Community Organizing, and Community Leadership
Community engagement brings together community building, community organizing, and community leadership to improve lives and strengthen communities. Successful community engagement is the positive, constructive convergence of strong community building efforts and active community organizing with a relentless commitment to community leadership.
[NOTE: The word 'community' is inclusive of all. Our County Executive's mission statement uses the term 'community members' liberally to mean all who are in our 'space'; i.e.: residents, businesses, visitors, etc... everyone!]
We are faced with the increasingly difficult challenge of stabilizing our communities and neighborhoods in the face of the devastating impact of economic disruptions and dislocation, foreclosure, joblessness, and diminishing traditional resources. Bricks and mortar alone are not the answer. Traditional involvement models no longer suffice. These models are impeded by the real stress of longer commutes, multiple jobs, and larger number of families caring for the young and old simultaneously. The resiliency of community residents and leaders is tested like never before; yet their boldness to invent new ways to engage the community consistently shines.
Participation in community – indeed, volunteerism in general – has matured beyond simply going to meetings or helping out the local charity. Community organizing, community building, and community leadership now come together to engage the whole community to create a better place to live, work, play, and worship.
Bringing together the traditional interests of residents, business, and government now expands to include social entrepreneurs; youth; on-line participants; the non-English speaker; renters as well as homeowners; the unemployed as well as the employed; the one-time volunteer as well as the fervent activist; new comers as well as established residents and interests. How decisions are made at the local level has become increasingly critical – and linked – to regional, national, and international issues. Today we are challenged with building our human capital, strengthening relationships, and connecting people to act in ways that yield tangible, measurable results in our lives and communities.
New and emerging issues require new tools, techniques and approaches. Some of these include: facing "game changing" budget shortfalls in municipal government; greening our neighborhoods; effectively managing family wealth and health; connecting the local economy to civic and volunteer participation; bringing to the decision process the voices of underserved communities; and tapping into the on-line world while reaffirming face-to-face connections.
It is through community engagement that people connect to improve lives where they live, and bring together individual, institutional, and social network interests to serve the common good. It is through the community building, community organizing, and community leadership that community engagement happens. Community engagement thrives when partnerships, collaborations and coalitions are nourished. Its values are rooted in inclusion, tolerance, and active participation. These values and context are operationalized in a real-world environment that is first and foremost diverse. Diversity is the driving cultural paradigm of successful community engagement.
Ultimately it is through connecting people that communities thrive.
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