Generating social capital in an urban neighborhood
by Peter Donovan
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON--In the 1940s, the West Central neighborhood just north of the Spokane River was a posh and prosperous residential community. But jobs, people, and capital have moved to the suburbs. By 1980, the 185-block area inhabited by 14,000 people was dubbed "Felony Flats" or the "Twilight Zone." West Central seemed to fit the stereotype of modern urban problems--poverty, welfare, drugs, family breakup, gangs, sexual violence, teen pregnancy, dropouts, and abandoned houses and cars. Less than a quarter of the houses were owner-occupied. Holmes Elementary School had a turnover rate in students of 125 percent per year, and 93 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
Transiency and isolation bred crime. In the 12-block area around the school, 300 felonies per year were reported, including burglary, rape, and drug sales. Residents practiced survival skills more than nurturing or community-building skills. Increasing amounts of federal and state money went to welfare, education, and social-service institutions, yet the problems worsened.
The following story is about a different approach, based on a different set of beliefs: that real development cannot result from imposing predetermined inputs or solutions, but could only be nurtured or facilitated, letting people define their own concerns, and starting with the assets of the people and of the neighborhood.
In 1990, Washington State University Cooperative Extension planned a project to address the problems of at-risk youth in West Central. Says Jon Newkirk, who chaired Spokane County Extension at the time, "we had written a grant application that made the West Central community sound like the awfullest place in the world."
Between filing for the grant and starting the project, Newkirk attended a conference at which John McKnight was the featured speaker (see page 4). McKnight reported his findings that communities are built and strengthened not by servicing their needs and deficiencies, but by finding and mobilizing their gifts, capacities, and assets. This was a radical challenge to the social-service approach in which he and others had been trained.
"All of the philosophy coming out of the Great Society [President Johnson's social and economic programs of the 1960s] was to focus on what was wrong with a community," says Newkirk. "You had to identify a high crime rate, a high poverty rate, right on down the line, to get that federal dole. It spilled over to foundation funding, so all of the philanthropic processes began to focus on what was wrong."
Most social programs, said McKnight, were based on a mental 'map'consisting mainly of institutions, and the people whose needs they served. The community domain--neighborhood associations, clubs, churches, families, friends--was either ignored, or seen as hopelessly parochial, unprofessional, or biased. The limits of this mental map were apparent in the increasing refusal of people to flourish under institutional management, and in rising costs.
McKnight saw the basic problem as weak communities. Needs surveys, while they often satisfied funder requirements, could only increase dependence and could not build stronger communities. McKnight recommended "asset mapping" as a way to change a community's perception of itself, as a first step to community empowerment.
At the opening meeting of the Family Focus project for West Central, Newkirk remembers, "we divided our team into two groups. Half went out and did a half-day asset mapping. Half went out and did a needs-based process. We came back together, and you would not have thought we were talking about the same community."
Though the project funding came as a result of a needs-based application, the practice turned toward the asset approach advocated by McKnight. Says Newkirk, "we weren't organizing a WSU presence there. Our job was to build and strengthen community assets. And they had a gigantic one in the West Central Community Center. We partnered with them. Our philosophy was, we're building local strengths, we're not building a new outside organization."
Family Focus was funded as a "youth" project, but the extension team realized that in order to succeed, the major elements of community ecology would also have to be enlisted: parents and families, community associations, and neighborhood schools. Extension got together a neighborhood coalition of 37 groups. They agreed that all would share the credit.
Instead of just delivering services and programming to youth, Family Focus sought to strengthen relationships between community assets. The starting point was families.
"If a family is living in the same house together, they're doing something right," says Marilyn Trail, who became the community resource coordinator for the project. "The Family Focus project built on the natural desire of families to thrive. It helped parents identify and strengthen their skills and talents. We came in with the attitude that everybody has skills, and everybody has value. Then we supported that in every way we could."
When asked, West Central residents said they wanted to learn parenting, money management, and conflict resolution skills. The core of Family Focus was its life skills training, which came in part out of 30 years' experience with a food and nutrition education program for low-income homemakers. Says Jon Newkirk, "when folks got a basic skill, like managing the food budget, it began to impact all kinds of things through the family dynamic."
"These classes," says Trail, "were for people who did not normally go out for continuing education. One of the goals was to break down social isolation. We did not sign people up by making them feel bad or inadequate." Recruiting was mostly word of mouth, focusing on parents of school-age children, and 392 people, almost all of them women, participated over the five-year project.
WSU facilitators for the classes were selected for their ability to relate to the people in the neighborhood, which included a Native American minority. The weekly classes were held in people's homes, where transportation and childcare were not barriers. A facilitator and five or six homemakers covered basic communication and empowerment skills, human development, household budgeting, conflict resolution, stress, time management, cooking and nutrition, cleaning, household energy use, and care of clothing.
The workbook emphasized relationships between these activities, and starting points. "Good time management," it says, "means doing important things now, not later. Using your time to pursue goals has many payoffs--increased satisfaction, relaxation, and much less stress. Strictly speaking, time can't be managed. Instead, managing time is actually a matter of managing yourself. A first step is to know where you're going." This is followed by a goal-setting exercise.
Pauline Posey says, "before I took the classes, my life had been a series of failures. I had the idea that everybody out there had or knew something I didn't. Now I know it was about setting goals. It was about taking the first step, then the second, and so forth. I always had wishes and hopes but I didn't know how to go about taking any action. I learned that by taking the first step, I would step onto a network of opportunities. Now there is no stopping me."
In 1992, West Central resident Jeanie Felice was a single mother on welfare. Her landlord upped the rent. Facing homelessness for herself and her two young daughters, she was connected by staff at Holmes Elementary School, where her oldest was in school, to area churches and eventually to the Spokane Community Housing Association, which found her a place to live. The school also connected her with Marilyn Trail, who recruited her into the Family Focus training.
"I was afraid. I didn't even want to go out of my house," Felice remembers. "I had low self-esteem. And here I was having this class in my house. It build self-confidence in having people over. Nobody knew each other. We built strength in each other."
Her children "liked the fact that I had to read, that I had homework. My daughter loved the cooking class. We went through the self-sufficiency book [the workbook] every week. I felt if I could just keep my little family in mind, we could better ourselves. Make little goals, like get more involved with my children's school."
"My community grew--lots of networking. It's nice to have people know you, by name. It made you feel like you had a home." Don Higgins, who directs the West Central Community Center, encouraged her to buy her house. She volunteered at the new neighborhood community-oriented policing substation (COPS West) and started college.
The people who helped her, says Felice, "believed in me. They could see qualities in me that I couldn't see myself--it was scary. Now they are friends for life. It changed me, made me feel like a person who contributes, instead of a number."
Jeanie Felice now works for the school district and lives in her own house, built by "troubled youth." Recently she joined the board of directors of the Spokane Community Housing Association. She helps collect rent from tenants. "I make them feel like they're important. Some of them have really blossomed."
Family Focus also involved the children of the parents who were taking the life-skills classes, and in much the same way, with classes taught in homes and a parallel curriculum: drug and alcohol refusal skills, anger management, and positive decision making.
Parents and children thus reinforced and extended their learning and relationships, says Trail. Most parents in the life-skills classes began volunteering in community settings, and could understand and support their children's acquisition of conflict-resolution skills. Both parents and children increased their contacts and developed more attachment to the neighborhood.
As community resource coordinator, Trail helped children and adults design and implement activities chosen by them, helped connect them with community resources, helped identify latent leaders and develop their talents, and supported people's participation in neighborhood efforts such as COPS West. Extension also provided training in positive discipline to the youth staff at West Central Community Center, shifting the emphasis there from entertainment to youth development.
Some of the institutions and agencies serving the community were threatened by the bottom-up, grassroots, asset-based approach. Introducing peer mediation of conflict into the schools was problematic, Trail says, as some teachers did not want children to be solving their own problems. Extension eventually developed a mediation club, Magic Mediators, outside the school.
"Involving marginalized people in the coalition meetings for Family Focus was a point of contention," Trail says. Eventually those agencies and people who understood and supported grassroots definition and solution of problems remained in the coalition.
Behavioral changes in participating parents over the project's five-year span included a 56 percent increase in time spent directly with children, a 40 percent decrease in television watching, a 70 percent increase in self-improvement activities, and a 116 percent increase in parents working or going to school. Parents spent 40,963 hours volunteering for community activities, equivalent to four full-time employees. The school turnover rate and the number of child abuse cases came down significantly.
These results, Trail emphasizes, were not simply the results of the Extension project, but came about through a collaboration with the neighborhood--with the desire of people to better their lives, and with their skills and commitment. Family Focus began with and helped nurture what was already there, rather than trying to implement an outside vision of improvement.
The project received special recognition from foundations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1996, a celebration marked the end of the funded phase of Family Focus. One participant honored the extension team with the following words: "This is the proudest thing I have ever done. No matter what else happens in my life, no one can ever take this away from me. You have given me my life back."
COPS West: the neighborhood police substation
Just a week after Marilyn Trail started her job as community resource coordinator for Family Focus, in 1991, two young girls, Nikki Wood and Rebecca West, were kidnapped while walking home from a grocery store in West Central. One body was found in a burning brush pile; the other has not been found. "It was a catalyzing event," she says.
The neighborhood anger resulted in a large meeting at the West Central Community Center, which Family Focus helped facilitate. One of the task forces that resulted was Police-Community Relations. Cheryl Steele, whose daughter had been friends with one of the kidnapped girls, chaired the task force. "All of us had a million stories about calling the police and nobody coming," she says. "But in the midst of all this anger, we realized we had to let go of this attitude that it was up to the police to solve all our problems. We're all part of the problem, and we need to be part of the solution."
Steele is a dedicated and formidable voice for her neighborhood. She remembers, "we found out that the two primary concerns were lack of police presence--which is interesting because the Public Safety building is in our neighborhood--and secondly, better dissemination of information regarding sexual predators. We asked, How can we create a presence, without vigilanteism?"
Pauline Posey was also on the task force. "The police were under the belief that they weren't really wanted here, and we just wanted to be left alone to deal with whatever we dealt with. And it wasn't true. It was a miscommunication on both sides. I've seen a large amount of disrespect."
Community-oriented policing was an emerging concept, and the Spokane Police Department had three "storefronts" in other neighborhoods. "They were just storefronts, with the word Police on them," Steele says. "We took that model, and said why don't we staff it? Money and funding were issues. The Police Department said, 'you build it and we'll come.'So we did."
Bob Lipe, a local store owner and long-time neighborhood resident, agreed to rent a storefront building to the city for a dollar a year. Neighborhood volunteers remodeled it and staffed it. The Spokane Police Department pays the phone and utility bills, and provides a part-time Neighborhood Resource Officer. COPS West opened in May 1992.
"COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) is about citizens taking responsibility for the conditions in their neighborhood that they have the capacity to change," says Steele. "Barking dogs, abandoned vehicles, broken windows, nuisance houses, drug houses, all of the things that the police don't see anymore because they are call-driven, busy going from one call to the next based on that little radio in their car. We decided to create a presence by putting this substation right in the heart of the neighborhood where the citizens could walk in and out."
"It's a new philosophy that's being ingrained in law enforcement all across the nation. It is an internal change from a paramilitaristic operation to an emphasis that policemen are there to serve and protect. It's about building a service model instead of acting only on the protection side of the model." Now there are 10 "COP shops" across the city.
Police patrols stop in frequently to get information. Volunteers have built relationships that enable them to give street intelligence to detectives, Special Investigations, and the gang unit. The COP shop is the hub of crime prevention in West Central: for neighborhood Block Watches, for the citizen volunteers who form the Neighborhood Observation Patrol, and for street and student safety programs. COPS West "became an amazing focus of activity with very little outside money," says Jon Newkirk.
"Every one is different, but this particular COP shop is built around a board of advisors that's inclusive of different agencies that are vital to this community," says Cheryl, who was the organization's first president and now directs the citywide COPS program. "That was a great three-year model. After three years the agency people started to fall away and they don't come to the meetings any more. But the citizens are here the first Wednesday night of every month. It could be 7 people, it could be 100 people, depending on what they're talking about."
Another West Central innovation that has become a national model is called Neighborhood-Based Supervision. Explains Steele, "this COP shop has corrections officers decentralized. They come to work here every day. Their clients live in this neighborhood, they see them in the COP shop and we see them out in the neighborhood doing home visits. Now, family members and neighbors have access to a parole officer. Before, they didn't even know the person had a parole officer because they never saw him. The person showered and cleaned up and went to the ivory tower to see the parole officer in a totally false environment. So that has changed the cognitive behavior of the criminal. By having them come here, it attaches them to different resources that we have found in the community--education, parenting classes, anger management, or financial management."
"We have a decentralized juvenile probation officer here full time. Now the community's emphasis is decentralizing those services that are critical to supporting the change that they've identified needs to be done. Over 90 percent of everything they do has to do with social ills and is not about crime at all."
"Addressing the root causes of issues really has been the crux of what has happened in the neighborhood police substation. In this one, it is geared mostly toward youth, because there are a lot of children, two-parent working families, and single parents in this neighborhood. It's been doing things to recognize those kids, know where they live, say hello and be cordial and friendly, making them accountable for their behavior."
"We've found that that accountability is 100 percent prevention. If they know that Mrs. Steele is going to see them doing something wrong on my block and go tell their mom, they're not going to do it. But if they're on a block where nobody knows them, and they want to throw a rock and hit a car window, they're probably going to do it, because there's no accountability there."
A three-ring binder with mugshots, addresses, and other information on convicted sex offenders sits on the counter at COPS West. "Everybody wants to run them out of town," says Cheryl. "They did a crime. They did their time. And our justice system says, you're free to leave here, and you're free to live in a dwelling, in a neighborhood, someplace in the United States. They are then rated, in terms of a level 1, 2, or 3, likely to reoffend. The more we keep them moving, the more we force them underground, the more likely it is--according to them--that they'll reoffend. It is when all the neighbors on the block know who they are, and watch every move they make, that they're less likely to reoffend. So we are in essence helping them rehabilitate."
"Now on the surface, that's like, 'so what are you, a registered sex offender supporter?'No. I will do anything I can to keep that person from reoffending. Because if that person reoffends, it might be my kid and it might be your kid. I have to take responsibility for that. I can't look out the window and see the people beating the snot out of each other and shut the curtains, because the one who gets hurt the worst, I'm responsible for that, because I let it happen. I didn't pick up the phone and call the police, and I didn't go down there and say hey, hey, stop. That's accountability. It's about personal responsibility and having the guts to say no."
"It's about establishing a norm for your overall community, a value and a norm for your block, as well as your family, and then practicing those on a daily basis. You have to do it. The percentage of the people who break the law, or who treat people badly, is the same today as it was a hundred years ago, and that's 6 percent. We've changed the way we do things to accommodate that 6 percent, because that's what we see on the six o'clock news. We need to turn off the news and go stand in our front yard."
Louise Stamper moved to West Central in 1992 and learned about COPS West through the Community News published by the West Central Community Center. She volunteered and is now president. "We've learned that providing resources has a lot to do with preventing crimes," she says. "People aren't out there breaking the law because they want to rebel. They are needful of things. In their upbringing they don't have any experience as to how to go about it."
"People more often come here to say, how do we handle a life crisis, how do we pay the rent, what do we do with children that are being abused? We've ended up being a big resource center. Conflict mediation, neighborhood disputes, domestic violence, just plain needing food and clothing."
"COPS West has practically raised a lot of children in this neighborhood. We think of them as ours, because their parents are for some reason not able to be there for them. These kids are brought to our attention by neighbors, police, teachers. We work very closely with the schools. Everybody is involved, all the volunteers."
"Do you know what Johnny so-and-so did today? I'll go to Bruce, our probation officer, and set it up so that if Johnny behaves himself, at the end of the week Bruce will take him down to the ice cream parlor. It's amazing how a little thing like that can turn around a child. Then he's not letting the air out of tires and breaking windows."
COPS West also provides a hub for residents to coordinate visual improvements to the neighborhood. Steele says, "Just because they're poor doesn't mean they have to live in substandard housing, or have to throw their sofa out in the back yard. There are resources to help these people. So what we're doing now, on a block-by-block basis, is inviting the residents and the landlords to this building and saying, how can you all help each other for your block? What is it that you want, and how we can we improve the conditions? We have four houses with kicked-in front doors, we have six sofas, four stoves, three refrigerators, all of this presents a public safety problem for the kids in the neighborhood." One neighborhood cleanup removed 380 tons of garbage.
"I live in a core area where a lot of crime was taking place," says Pauline Posey, who volunteered at COPS West. "I started focusing a lot of my energies on cleaning up this two-block area. I really wanted a safe place for my kids to live. If I'm going to do that for my own children, why not for all the children? There are 45 kids on just this one block."
The best defense against crime, says Pauline, is communication. "Talk to one another. Get to know who lives next to you. Get to know their kids, get to know who belongs there, who doesn't belong there. When you leave, tell a neighbor, tell two or three. Your neighbors are not going to be the ones who come in and steal you blind while you're gone. They're going to be the ones looking out to make sure no one else does it."
"The focus here at COPS West," says Cheryl, "has been addressing all of those issues that we identify as citizens, and taking the pieces of the system that are critical to support the change that we need to make, and also making the system change."
"The police department will say, you guys have a really high increase in assaults. And they're happening between 4 pm and 7 pm, and they're happening in this area. And so then the citizens will say, okay, we'll watch it. Our citizen patrol will go there, our school watch people with their hats on, and just the mere presence of people watching dissipates the problem. There are problems that are presented by the system, and then there are problems that are identified by the citizens. It's really a collaboration--sometimes it's very very tough, but it is a collaboration that ultimately resolves the problems."
"The toughest thing is getting the system to open their box. They think that everything has to be a secret. That's true of law enforcement, corrections, school districts, community mental health, and every service provider I've run up against. 'We can't really talk about that,'or 'we can't do this because it's not in our job description.'You just have to keep worming around until you find that person that still has a heart, and attach emotionally to that, and then they'll work inside their system, and get it to change."
Most COPS West volunteers have attended the Police Department's 10-week Citizens Academy, where they learn firsthand about the emotional, physical, and legal facets of police work. Alumni testify to increased understanding and respect for police officers.
In another COPS West activity, Pauline Posey now coordinates the local Police Activities League, a sports and recreation program that partners youth with police. "Because of TV and media and different things, you have a misidentification of who people really are," she says. "To get them together and do some mentoring, is the idea behind it. Once the kids start respecting and seeing these officers as people, they will start respecting the laws that they go out to enforce, and therefore are less likely to create crime. So it's a crime prevention program, but you have fun doing it."
"My daughter at the age of eight was totally frightened of police officers, and wanted to hide from them. Today at eighteen she wants to be one. And that's pretty awesome."
There has been a shift in police/neighborhood relations. Though there is a tendency for police officers to be suspicious of civilians, particularly low-income civilians, Stamper says, "the police department takes us seriously, they listen to us now. They see that we have really made a difference in their jobs, and in crime prevention in general. They're friendlier."
Tim Conley, a police officer who worked out of COPS West, said that "kids now know us by name. When they wave, it's with all their fingers instead of just one."
"The least important thing I do is law enforcement," he says. "Putting kids in jail is not what we want to do. We want to keep them from getting there."
Citywide, the 10 COP shops are responsible for 167 neighborhood-level projects. "If the city had to pay for volunteer time, it would be $2 million," says Steele. "It costs the Police Department one half of 1 percent of their budget to keep this partnership with the neighborhoods."
The crime rate in West Central went from highest in the city to lowest, says Jon Newkirk, "because of people using the skills that they had." The number of known drug houses went from 81 to 6.
Success has created some complacency. Stamper says getting enough volunteers is a challenge, "getting them to believe they can make a difference. We have gotten more volunteers from a problem happening on a block or apartment and being taken care of, and people saying, 'oh my goodness, we didn't know what you do.'"
Volunteers also leave to pursue careers and other dreams, as did Jeanie Felice. "The neighborhood cleanups were awesome," she says. "COPS West made you feel more pride in who you are, and take care of yourself and your neighbors."
Toward participatory democracy
For a long time, power in Spokane has been closely held by a small group of business and political leaders, and old money from railroads, wheat, mining, and newspapering. Other neighborhood groups and associations in Spokane are trying asset- or neighborhood-based approaches, and neighborhood power is growing. In 1995, former mayor Jack Geraghty held a series of town hall meetings on communication with neighborhoods. Shortly afterward a city ordinance created the Office of Neighborhood Services within city government.
The program is not a funding or entitlement program for neighborhoods. Its purpose is to improve communication between neighborhoods and city government, through participatory neighborhood councils. Says director Molly Myers, "It's a very flexible, bottom-up, grassroots process." Twenty-four councils, covering over 90 percent of the city's area, have defined their boundaries, named themselves, and adopted bylaws. Participation is open to everyone with a stake in the neighborhood, not just residents. So far about 2,200 people in this city of 190,000 participate regularly. There is a monthly assembly where representatives of all the councils get together to discuss issues and problems. Fifteen neighborhood councils are beginning to collaborate on street-calming (slowing traffic), which has become a city-wide issue.
Says Mayor John Talbott, "Neighborhood Council meetings are a great place to find out if city policies are working for the citizens of Spokane or if they need to be changed."
"Many organizations give lip service to citizen involvement," Myers says. "This program, you've got to belly up to the bar and do it. That has been a painful shift in a lot of ways, both for staff with the city and also for the neighborhoods."
"The days of coming up to the microphone and storming the council chambers and just saying 'we don't want it just because,'isn't going to fly anymore."
"City staff has been used to making decisions for people for about a hundred years. The days of going to a neighborhood and presenting a solution--here, we've done all the work, now what do you think?--are almost over."
The Park Department drafted an ordinance that gave itself the authority over street trees but placed all the liability and responsibility for problems with property owners. The neighborhood councils dug in their heels. The City Council sent it back to the Park Department, which had to work with the councils. After six months of painful meetings, they came out with an ordinance that everybody could buy into. It passed easily.
The city estimates that Spokane's streets need $100 million worth of repair, but has been unsuccessful in getting a gas tax or a bond issue approved. Says Myers, "City Council came to the neighborhoods, and said we need your help, you develop a plan for how to fund street improvements. We've developed a collaborative steering committee to look at this issue. It will be a bottom-up process, which is the antithesis of how we as a city have done anything in this regard, ever. Always the city has defined the funding levels, defined the funding sources (bond, gas tax, whatever), put the package together, and then went out and tried to sell it to the public. It has failed miserably."
"What we're trying to do with this endeavor is engage the citizens from the get-go. First of all, to find out do you think this is a problem? If you don't think this is a bad enough problem, we'll stop right there."
"Some are starting to see the handwriting on the wall, that you cannot operate as a self-isolated entity. That this community, if it is to move forward, has to move forward with all the components, not just a few. Because these folks will vote you down in a heartbeat."
"We've come a long way. Is everybody on board? No way."
The shift from representative democracy to participatory democracy requires different skills, working toward consent rather than control. In 1994, the Institute for Neighborhood Leadership formed in the West Central Community Center, dedicated to grassroots empowerment and community revitalization. Evening courses include conflict resolution, community action planning, public speaking, neighborhood collaboration, and meeting management.
Director Patrick Copeland-Malone emphasizes the importance of servant leadership, and of fostering people's ability to be their own change agents. Networking is also important, "so people can start with personal relationships rather than issues."
"We're still pretty dependent on the social-service mentality," he says. "But there is far more capacity, individually and in neighborhoods, that I realized."
What they learned
Jon Newkirk: [Asset-based community development] works. It is an approach that relates across the political spectrum. Actually liberals have a little more problem with the concept. If you're sincere about it, it minimizes the role of outside do-gooders.
Select very carefully the partners out of the social-service structure. They are so needs-focused. Their whole preoccupation is going after grants that are needs-based. That's what all our schools of social work train in. The political process: politicians have to play that game to get federal and state money. The whole thing about applying the money where it's needed most forces you into thinking this way.
That whole needs-based philosophy has been driven so to the core of public policy thinking, that if you're a professional within that system it is really tough to counter that and make the shift. The academic environment of individualism works against the adoption of somebody else's idea.
Marilyn Trail: In order to do effective empowerment work with children and families, or communities, you must be willing to work so effectively that your efforts will no longer be needed. We cannot go on creating dependence.
We saw children, families, and community as interactive components of the neighborhood ecology. Strategies building on the strengths of all the components had the greatest impact. There's a growing spiral of positive behaviors.
Louise Stamper: I have learned that it's not impossible to get anything done that a community wants, if they work together. You need leaders in a community. There are a lot of people who have wonderful ideas, and want to do a lot of things, but a community needs leaders to get these people together and help them implement their ideas and help create other leaders.
In America in general, people are saying there's nothing we can do and there's nothing that can be done. There's a lot of that even in this community.
The best way to deal with it is with small community-based organizations that can encourage communities. I've seen people who didn't think that they could do the things that they ended up doing. It's also enabled them to enrich their lives in other ways.
Start with your block, start with your neighbor. Find your leaders. When you have the basis of a group, you can change the system: "This is what we'd like to see, and this is how we're going to help out."
It's not a dictatorship kind of leadership. It's more a servant-based, consensus-type leadership--which is the only way a community can get involved. In order to make a dramatic change in a community, you have to nurture people and encourage them and mentor them in order to raise other leaders.
It goes from the bottom up. People have to realize that they can do it. You just start with each other. You don't have to go to school and get a degree. It's your town, it's your neighborhood, it's your block.
Molly Myers: Working with citizens is extremely frustrating. It's good, I believe in it, it is absolutely the right way to go, but it is very, very difficult. You are working with so many people who are at so many different spectrums and levels of professionalism and education.
The frustration, anger, and resentment that has built up in our citizenry over the years, that now has a venting place, is almost overwhelming. Venting is good--for a while. Then you need to say, what are we going to do to solve the problem? I did not realize how intense that anger has been. That will take some time, to build that level of trust that needs to be there in order for good things to happen in a community. You're bucking a hundred years of it being another way.
You've got to have an awful lot of patience. That's difficult in a political spectrum, where you see elected officials come and go.
Cheryl Steele: We have to rehumanize one another in order to get anything accomplished. It can't be about what's on the paper or what the policy or procedure is anymore. That doesn't work.
Change is very difficult, and it takes an awful lot of courage. The difficult part is to sit back and watch all the rhetoric, and be able to identify the real issues that are coming from that. All of that arguing, all of that "we can't, they can't, this can't happen," and really listening and finding the issue that's critical to making the change, plucking that out, and letting all of the rest of it go, and adding that to your foundation to make it more solid, stronger, that has longevity, and recognizing the root cause, and being able to attach the resources or build in protective factors to do that.
I often apologize because we do displace crime. But no matter whether it's urban America or rural America, eventually all Americans are going to be hearing that value, of zero tolerance to crime, and knowing one another, and citizenship and trust. All of those basic fundamental values are coming back to the surface. That's the way we'll change everything in America.
Pauline Posey: That it takes everybody. Not one person can do it, not one idea. It takes everybody and a family to make a family work. It takes everybody and a community to make a community work. And you don't have to like each other. You don't have to be best friends, but you can respect each other, and respect the differences as well as the sameness, and work together for a common goal.