A model for community in reach

Reevaluate your community outreach to understand the benefits of community in reach.

December 29, 2017 - Author: Dionardo Pizaña,

Many individuals and organizations have a goal of serving or reaching out to others in communities that are struggling or have day-to-day needs that are difficult for them to acquire or address. Often, an individual volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter or an organization that, each year, devotes volunteer hours to help with a neighborhood improvement project. Many of these efforts are described as community outreach programs and can help address an unmet community need. 

These community outreach efforts can also be problematic for all involved if they, consciously or unconsciously, exhibit some of the following characteristics found in many of these efforts:

Community Outreach:

  • Savior mentality – I want to help those people.
  • Remaining comfortable – The experience in designed and controlled by those with the most power.
  • Short-term engagement that makes me feel good.
  • No built in plans to sustain the efforts and build relationships with those being served.
  • One-dimensional recognition of assets – I am helping you because you cannot help yourself.
  • Limited or no discussion about issues of power, privilege or the impact of differences.

With intentionality and a commitment to working with people in partnership across our differences, a model for community in reach is possible.  A model for community in reach would exhibit the following characteristics:

Community in reach:

  • Positioning myself to learn about and from the community I am serving – I don’t have all the answers or solutions, but I am willing and eager to learn.
  • Prioritizing quality over quantity – Focusing my attention on the quality of my relationships with others or what I can do to build and maintain trust, etc. is just as important as the number of people I serve or other quantitative measures.
  • Using my individual or organizational currency of power and privilege to support equity outcomes for all involved.
  • Specific and measureable goals that prioritize sustaining the relationships and initiative beyond short-term or grant funding.
  • Understanding or identify the assets that each individual or organization brings to the table, even those that may not seem familiar to me.
  • Building relationships of accountability across differences that inform our efforts, prioritizes shared power and supports a collective sense of responsibility for each other.
  • Always asking and reflecting on questions like, “How is race playing into this decision” and “Are we comfortable with the outcomes of our decisions and how it may impact people across our differences such as race, gender, class, disabilities and other differences?”
  • Celebrating our differences, our accomplishments and our continued learning.

A community outreach approach can serve the purpose of meeting some short term, immediate needs of individuals and communities.  Moving toward a community in reach approach can serve the purpose of building authentic and connected relationships across our differences, helping to transform our communities and supporting ongoing, needed change.  

Tags: community, livable communities, msu extension

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