The Power of Associations
As I shared in my last post, one of the first signs that a community is being transformed is that individuals and groups unite around a shared vision. Figuring out what a community cares enough about to get involved in takes a lot of listening. Getting individuals to actually make a commitment to the process of change requires a tremendous amount of relationship development. Actually crafting a shared vision together takes humility and patience and a pure motive to seek what is in the best interest of the residents of the community.
However, the key to actually developing a community from the inside out is all about power. True development puts the power in the hands of local leaders who are seeking the best interest of the neighborhood and who have the skills and the respect of the community necessary to mobilize the community.
One of the best tools for creating shared leadership and for distributing power to the residents is associations. Associations are groups of individuals who voluntarily enter into an agreement to accomplish a purpose. We have all been a part of associations, whether they were formal like a neighborhood association or informal like a group of peers who decide to work together on a project. Some associations are highly effective. I am a part of the Communities First Association (CFA) which is an association of asset based Christian community developers. CFA has helped me gain knowledge, improve my community development skills and build a network of peers across the country. I have also experienced associations that were completely ineffective. The kind where I attended meeting after meeting but I never saw any progress or where I was not even sure what the shared goal was.
From my experience, the effectiveness of an association rests on two things, clarity of the shared mission and effectiveness of the shared leadership.
As I look at the many different opportunities in the various neighborhoods that Embrace Richmond is active in, I often get overwhelmed. As I have worked with my CFA coach, Jay Van Groningen, he has helped me see that the answer is not “Embrace needs to do more.” The answer is that we need to help build associations and bring together others who care about the things that the neighbors care about.
This fall we hope to bring together concerned citizens, churches and other non-profits around these goals:
- Continued strengthening of the Hillside Court community
- Creation of a youth and family life center on the Northside
- Revitalization of the Brookland Park Boulevard commercial corridor
(If you have questions about these specific projects, please leave a comment and I will get in touch with you.)
All of these goals are bigger than one organization and they will all require cooperation and partnerships between residents, non-profits and faith communities.
As we move into the role of helping to launch associations, what advice can you give us?
From your experience, what makes an association effective?