Posts Tagged ‘When People Care Enough to Act’

Toss your list of needs: Give thanks instead

“Seeing all assets of a community is like looking through a kaleidoscope: many colored chips of glass fit together in many different ways as you turn the scope,” say the authors of When People Care Enough to Act.

One of the guiding principles of this book we are currently reviewing for CausePlanet is grounded in the notion that we achieve genuinely effective community solutions if we focus on our assets rather than solely on our needs.

Authors Green, Moore and O’Brien would be proud of the students of Lancaster High School in Lancaster, California. The student body recently raised $80,000 earlier this year to design an accessible house for fellow community member and disabled Iraq War veteran, Jerral Hancock. Hancock was paralyzed and lost an arm in combat in 2007.

The entire community got involved soon thereafter. Local contractors, architects and real estate consultants donated manpower, local hardware stores offered discounts on supplies, and inmates at the local prison hosted an art sale to raise proceeds.

In chapter seven, “Building the Bridge From Client to Citizen,” the authors explain that “there is no one we don’t need” in a community. The Lancaster residents are a perfect example of this perspective. The authors further explore the great possibilities with inclusiveness and “seeing with a citizen’s eyes.” The people of Lancaster, California, viewed themselves as equal partners in creating a solution they cared about. When people care enough to act, it’s remarkable what can be accomplished.

Focusing on our community’s assets couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for Americans since we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Our Canadian neighbors have already celebrated in October but the meaning is the same for both holidays. Thanksgiving commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 and is a time to give thanks for what we have.

Rather than default to your list of needs, I encourage you to look at your organization and community and identify the assets. How does this perspective change your ability to tackle complex issues? What other organizations could be viewed as assets if you collaborate? Green, Moore and O’Brien would say it’s a great week to give thanks.

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Into the field

Bees hummed in the purple flowers of the sage, growing wild at the edge of the garden.  From the sandy Colorado soil, rows of lettuce and peppers, frilly carrot stalks, and hardy tomato plants bloomed. Shading her eyes against the bright morning sun, Denise Wanzo extended an arm wide.  “This is my service.  When I ask, Lord how do I move forward another day, He just says, ‘work the garden.’  So I do.”

The fruits of this garden, tended by Denise and other members of the United Church of Montbello, go to the Montbello Cooperative Ministries Food Bank.  The tiny food bank serves over 1,000 individuals each month with donations, government commodities, and, when the harvest comes in, fresh tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and zucchini.

Standing in a circle, listening to Denise describe the garden, are more than a dozen graduate students, nearly all of them employed in the nonprofit sector.  They are fundraisers, administrative assistants, mental health workers, program managers.  A few are looking for their first nonprofit job. Together, they are taking part in a “service-oriented field experience” through Regis University.

For eight days in July, these students from Regis’ Masters in Nonprofit Management Program visited different parts of the Metro Denver community, even spending a night in the mountains in Leadville, meeting with people who were helping to integrate new immigrants into the community.   You can read more about their experience on their Facebook page,

For most of these students, the field experience took them far from their day-to-day work.  After the morning the garden with Denise, they attended a gospel worship service led by Reverend James Fouther, then they spent time talking with his wife Angelle Collins Fouther and volunteers from the food bank, experiencing firsthand the connection between faith and service.  Later, they heard from Kathy Underhill of Hunger Free Colorado ( about the systemic issues underlying hunger in our abundant country.  Finally, they formed “family groups” and cooked dinner using staples similar to those families receive from the food bank.

In reading the reflections on Facebook, the students were profoundly influenced by their experiences.  “Each visit was an addition of knowledge and reminder of the dedication it takes to make a social change, together.”  “Over the last year, I have talked about ideas I have for creating change in the community but I have never followed through with these ideas.  After meeting all of these wonderful individuals, I see that there is no ‘good’ time to start with one of these ideas but that I just need to ‘do’ these ideas.”

Many of us who work in the nonprofit sector spend our time in management and administrative tasks.  In service to our missions, we make phone calls and send e-mails, prepare presentations, compose fundraising letter, manage staff.  Though our ultimate goal may be to make sure more homeless people have shelter and more children can read, the way we spend our days often resembles any corporate white-collar job.

After seeing how the field experiences changed the students in the Regis program, I am recommitted to making sure that field experiences are a part of my life.  While I have a perfectly nice office and access to dozens of stories and videos on the internet from all around the world, there is nothing like standing in a community garden and hearing from a leader like Denise Wanzo about her service.  There is nothing that fires your commitment to social change like mopping the floors after serving meals to a few hundred homeless people, knowing that they have to go out into the heat and I get to come back into the air conditioning.

Fortunately, service opportunities abound in our sector.  Does your organization have time for shared volunteer activities?  Or do you have a segment of your organization that provides direct service, which could cycle in staff from other departments as volunteers on a regular basis?  Many communities have volunteer matching programs through groups like Metro Volunteers…find yours and have them link you to the service opportunities.

Another option is to spend time out in the community you serve, just walking around and talking to clients, potential clients, and regular folks.   If you spend most of your time with donors and other administrators, this can be an incredible wake-up call. Mike Green from the Asset-Based Community Development Institute helped the Regis group take such a walk around the Original Aurora community…identifying and mapping community assets in partnership with residents.  It was a transformative experience.

Even though it feels as if I’m so busy I can’t possibly add one more thing to my list, I know that these experiences will energize me for the work ahead…essentially saving me time that I waste searching for inspiration.  My inspiration will be in the experiences of service, in the eyes and hands and spirits of the people with whom I connect.  I look forward to hearing about how you put service to work in your life.

See also:

When People Care Enough to Act


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