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Community Development TIG Week: Asset-Based Community Development Begins with Being a Good Organizational Neighbor by Sandy Sheppard

Hello AEA365 Blog readers! I’m Sandy Sheppard, a community social worker (LMSW) and researcher (PhD) working as a Senior Evaluation Associate for CCNY, Inc. in Buffalo, NY.

In March 2022, the Community Development TIG sponsored a week of blogs exploring community development evaluation through practice- and project-based examples of how AEA members were addressing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I reflected on those posts as I collected my thoughts for this contribution.

Here on Buffalo’s East Side “we” as a company and “we” as individual professionals are struggling to become authentic partners in a community that has been historically devastated by exploitative and oppressive conditions that include but are not limited to corporate disinvestment, eminent domain for highway building, low wages, and substandard housing. Our community was also recently devastated by a white supremacist mass shooting that has prompted two distinct responses: the most obvious is the sudden interest and investment by outside (privileged and professional) organizations who want to “help victims” in the wake of a disaster; and the less “obvious” groundswell of activism among East Side residents in support of the well-ordered vibrancy of their community. These residents are confronting and dispelling the urban myth of Black neighborhoods as rife with social instability and isolation resulting from a breakdown of standards and values, and reassigning the label “broken” to the “helping” macro systems.

As an evaluation organization, we were invited by community leaders to assist with developing a “community needs” survey, and we reported on needs to the satisfaction of community leaders who commissioned the work to provide data for government disaster funding. This work included facilitating focus groups with survivors and families of victims and in these discussions, we discovered that community members were deeply aware of their assets as evidenced by an eight-point vision for a thriving community that was never advanced by community leaders who were focused on needs. The eight vision points included specific suggestions for: community bonding/building, mentorship opportunities, community outreach, accessible resources, support for small businesses, strict gun laws, viable employment, and community self-surveillance through community-led environmental design and security training.

Community members clearly envisioned the ways in which they could help themselves and/or could use a little help; their vision didn’t focus on “help” from outside agencies. “We” as an agency and “we” as individual professionals certainly want to be helpful to evaluative processes in this community where we live and work, however we must first prove ourselves capable and willing to support the community on a personal level before engaging on a professional level.

Lesson Learned

Be a good organizational neighbor before anything else. We challenged ourselves as an agency to realign organizational needs around small businesses on the East Side so now, for example:

  • all our catering is provided by a local MWBEs
  • our company sponsors paid volunteer hours during the workday 

Hot Tips

Go to community gatherings and listen. Join community groups and lend a hand. Ask questions about how to be a good organizational neighbor. Even if it’s only a few members of your agency or organization, your presence and willingness to go shoulder-to-shoulder in advocacy or riding a bike or weeding a garden is authentically visible. What you represent professionally can be accessed by the community in its own time and in a way that is more authentically in support of what the community deems essential.

Rad Resources

Social Transformation Theory, African Americans and the Rise of Buffalo’s Post-Industrial City

The Harder we Run: The State of Black Buffalo in 1990 and the Present

How We Change the Black East Side

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Community Development TIG Week with our colleagues in the Community DevelopmentTopical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our CD TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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