I just spoke to the board of Neighborhood Housing Services Cleveland [whoa 1994 site design!] about my trip to Nashville. They footed the bill so it was only right that I tell them about it. The board has folks from all kinds of Cleveland services as members and the City Council Chairman Martin Sweeney was there speaking about a possible collaboration between Council and NHS. Two other fellow trip-takers also talked about their workshops.
I ran into Lou Tisler from NHS this morning at Lucky’s, picking up bagels. The only thing is, I didn’t realize he was Lou Tisler until I arrived at NHS, since I’d not met him before. The NHS building is also housing a curated gallery by Bridget Ginley. When community activism, third-space coincidences and local art collaborate, it is a recipe for a happy Adam. Sometimes I feel like something huge is about to happen in Cleveland.
My third workshop was Transforming Conflict Into Action, something that is also very important in my neighborhood. There are a lot of groups that butt-heads over a variety of issues and this workshop focused on providing us with tools to use effective listening in order to resolve conflict and keep it from resulting in stagnation of a group’s goals. We did several role-playing activities designed to help us empathize with people typically viewed as the problem in a group. By doing this we gained valuable perspective and hopefully when we’re engaged in conflict in the future, we’ll be able to disarm and communicate. An effective method for building strong non-conflicting bonds between conflicting groups is to engage in listening projects. That is, only listen, [don’t provide opinions!] to what the person is saying and through effective discernment, the true issues can often be teased out.
My second workshop, Advocating for Change in Your Community, focused on its title. I chose to take this workshop because Tremon[s]ters are stubborn even for Cleveland and when two people have opposing viewpoints on a neighborhood issue it is often hard to mediate or even gain something that has the appearance of consensus. Effective change-advocacy is therefore and essential part of community building. My bullets from this session:
• The #1 problem worldwide that groups think they have is gaining more resident involvement. We learned that this phrase is far too ill-defined to provide much meaning. Often a core groups of residents are the change agents in a community, so numbers don’t equal greater involvement or effect advocacy.
• Involvement should construct and implement shared vision and works as a two way street. Community leaders shouldn’t merely try to get residents to come to them, but should seek out the residents and talk to them on their own terms about their own issues.
• Exploring your neighborhood and informing your neighbors and even others outside of the ‘hood of the positive and negative aspects of your community can slowly build networks that will develop organically, over time, into powerful change agents.
• Meetings should be structed to attract people, and ill-organized meetings and meetings but not doings are the quickest way to lose change advocacy and resident involvement.
• Deseminate information! Share! Be your own marketer for the neighborhood; keeping information to yourself harms the community.
A lot of these things are common sense, but how often are they practiced or remembered?
I also learned about zillow.com which can let you find out all kinds of information on housing prices and housing types in your neighborhood.
My first workshop was focused on building lasting and effective relationships between adults and youth in neighborhoods. To our benefit, there was a 17 year old girl in our workshop whose insights vastly improved the quality of the workshops. I was looking for information on how to get youth in my ‘hood involved and keep them involved in improving the neighborhood. Here are some bullets from my notes:
• Ask what youth have to offer to spark engagement. If they know their input is valuable to you, they will be more interested.
• Offer plenty of positive reinforcement and trust.
• Provide safe but relaxed environments for youth to feel comfortable in.
• Be transparent about your own experiences. Saying “I was a teenager once” but not explaining the specific instances that brought that remark out is essentially lying, and youth can pick that up.
• The problems that face youth seem to be both systemic and pandemic. That is, they receive little to no support from government institutions and that the need for good leadership, positive role models, and quality programs to combat negative influences are found nationwide.
• When planning a youth program make sure to include youth in the dermination of the process and the future of the program. I think that anything you expect youth to be involved in should look for youth involvement from square one of planning on.
• Look at the Louisville Office of Youth Development. They provide a booklet listing nearly all of the youth-oriented programs in the Louisville area free of charge. Sure wish Cleveland had something like this.
The NeighborWorks Peak Performance Opening Plenary just finished and I’m chowing on a bagged lunch. The opening remarks were pretty standard, and there were the inevitably long people-we’d-like-to-recognize sessions, but now that it is over I’m ready to go on my first workshop, Adults and Youth Working Together.