Reflections from Community Engagement Matters
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a community engagement workshop hosted by the Maryland Philanthropy Network (Maryland Philanthropy Network) and facilitated by Paul Schmitz of Leading Inside Out. This was a valuable learning experience for me, as I was able to connect Paul’s ideas and the accompanying conversations with the work I am doing this year as a fellow with Maryland Environmental Health Network (MdEHN), an Maryland Philanthropy Network project.
A concept that Paul introduced that I found to be very helpful was Asset Based Community Development. This model for community engagement recognizes the need to define a community by their gifts and talents. Too often, outside groups and organizations come into a community with good intentions, but define the people they are seeking to help by their problems or perhaps what they are lacking. The first question we should be asking when seeking to engage with a community is “What do the community members do best for themselves?”
Once this is answered, we can then move on to questions such as “What does this community need help with?” and “What organizations/programs would be the best fit for this community?”. If we can first look for assets, this then puts us in a much better position to build relationships, collaborate, and empower community members who are seeking positive change. This was a great take-home idea for me as I support MdEHN this year as they work with communities to promote the elimination of exposures to environmental threats to improve human health for all Marylanders.
Blake Wrigley is a fellow with the Maryland Environmental Health Network. He is a graduate student at University of Maryland's School of Social Work with a concentration in community action and social policy.
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