Every December for the past nine years, my husband’s company spends an entire day decorating and preparing a local school so they can throw a holiday party that evening for the students and their families. They host a holiday meal and enjoy games, face painting, portraits and a visit from Santa.
As the parents enter the school with their kids, most look exhausted from a long day, perhaps working more than one job, but their moods lift when their children see the celebration awaiting them. One of the mothers put this small folded note into my husband’s hand as she scooted past him and entered the classroom designated for face painting. She’d clearly typed up this message and made copies so she could hand it out to the volunteers that evening.
Once an in-house holiday party…
My husband’s company identified its annual holiday party as an opportunity to provide its celebration to an organization with greater need. After developing a relationship with the school administrators, they discovered how much these school communities need a break from the constant financial strain of living at or below the poverty level. Rather than hold a corporate party for the employees, the company decided to offer a party for one school and its community on an annual basis.
One asset leads to the discovery of others
While choosing a different school every year was appreciated, they soon realized the heightened value of continuity and the importance of developing a relationship with one school over time. Plus, they could collaboratively identify other ways of working together. Last year, the company made a three-year commitment to one school in particular because of their shared commitment to education and college-bound students. The partnership provides a forum for discovery of what each partner can bring to the table and a channel for additional educational initiatives, including monetary donations, technology and volunteer hours. Activities and events include support for launching the school’s first library, a Book Trust fundraising drive, reading campaigns, science lab enhancements, teacher appreciation luncheons, learning technologies and teacher meeting spaces. The partnership will also help the school expand their curriculum to include fourth and fifth grades by the 2015-2016 school year.
Focusing on assets versus needs
This partnership between the company and school is a perfect example of identifying one’s assets to address a local need. The authors of When People Care Enough to Act would ask you to pay close attention to a community’s assets rather than immediately and exclusively focusing on needs, which yield limited results. By partnering with this school, the administrators were able to identify and tap into their own strengths as well as pursue a vision they had for their students, one of which was building a curriculum for fourth and fifth graders.
When People Care Enough to Act is based on the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach that focuses on “discovering and mobilizing the resources that are already present in a community,” say Green, Moore and O’Brien. In other words, the authors demonstrate that every community has more potential resources than any one person knows.
This workbook is meant to be a friendly catalyst to you, the community builder. No matter what your role–agency leader, staff community organizer or citizen—you will learn about your options to act more effectively for a stronger community. You’ll learn about the three qualities of effective community development, the five building blocks of any healthy community and the three interconnected activities surrounding Asset Based Community Development. Finally, the authors will explore key themes that define a framework for action.
Guiding principles for asset-based community building
I asked author, Mike Green, to elaborate on the difference between an asset-based approach and needs-based approach. Below you’ll find his answer and an excerpt of 12 guiding principles:
Green: Most communities address social and economic problems with only a small amount of their total capacity. Much community capacity is not used and is needed! This is the challenge and opportunity of ABCD. Everyone in a community has something to offer. There is no one we don’t need.
Here are the first four of twelve guiding principles of ABCD in action:
1.) Everyone has gifts. With rare exception people can contribute and want to contribute. Gifts must be discovered. Gift giving opportunities must be offered. Strong communities know they need everyone. There is unrecognized capacity and assets in every community. Find it.
3.) Residents at the center can engage the wider community. People in leadership in everyday life (associations, congregations, neighborhoods and local businesses) must be at the center of community initiatives rather than just helping agency leaders. It is essential to engage the wider community as actors (citizens) not just as recipients of services (clients).
4.) Leaders involve others as active members of the community. Leaders from the wider community of voluntary associations, congregations, neighborhoods, local businesses can engage others from their sector. Community building leaders always need to have a constituency of people to involve. This following is based on trust, influence and relationship. Strong community leaders invite a growing circle of people to act.
I encourage you to use this time of year to evaluate your personal, organizational and community assets and look for ways they can be of service to others. Mike Green and his coauthors would argue a community that focuses on its assets and how they can be best utilized has far more potential than a community absorbed by its needs.