Lasting community change starts when the voices of the community are heard and community members are at the forefront, developing solutions and making decisions. Across the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, efforts are growing to work alongside the community.
Here are six insights from work in Baltimore, Md.; Redmond, Ore.; and San Antonio, Texas:
First, see what’s already out there.
Don’t duplicate efforts, says Leroy Adams, Our Tomorrow network manager at UP Partnership in San Antonio. Survey the community to see what’s already happening and where you can team up to amplify efforts.
Get your team and resources on board.
Make sure you’re supported to do community engagement work well, says Jasmyne Gilbert, program manager of the Baltimore Summer Funding Collaborative at Baltimore’s Promise. Jasmyne’s work to develop a youth grant review involved extensive efforts to recruit young people and build relationships through hands-on methods like texting. To succeed, she says, your team has to be all in.
Make sure everyone is at the table.
The work of Better Together Central Oregon connects school districts, the library, the police department, health care and more, making sure that family concerns reach all corners of the community. Rutila Galvan-Rodriguez, director of family and youth partnerships, shares that having the full community represented ensures that the work is inclusive, with the question “Who are we leaving out when we create these policies?” at the forefront of change.
Don’t just take.
“We have to be intentional about not being transactional,” says Larry Simmons, director of community engagement at Baltimore’s Promise. Your engagement work can’t be just asking for things from young people and then disappearing. Maintain relationships after events or projects are over so that youth and community members can stay involved and build their share of community power.
Be patient and open to new ways of working.
Young people see the world differently and take on work differently, says Leroy at UP Partnership. “It takes patience and understanding to say, they’re just doing it differently and it doesn’t mean it’s less effective. Many times, it’s much more effective,” he says.
Meet people where they are.
True community change doesn’t start in a boardroom. Rutila at Better Together says that she hears community members’ concerns when they run into each other at the grocery store, and one of her coworkers visits low-income housing communities to connect families with resources at home. It’s important for their work to spend time in the community with families and youth, rather than sitting in an office making plans without them.
Read more about creating solutions and making decisions with youth and families in StriveTogether’s latest annual report.