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Welcoming Communities Project: Practicing Community Development

Members of the Welcoming Communities Project of New Ulm, Sleepy Eye and Springfield have been meeting via Zoom examining the book, “Practicing Community Development” by Donald W. Littrell and Doris P. Littrell. Our community groups were privileged to have Stephen Jeanetta, 2nd edition co-author of “Practicing Community Development,” join our Zoom.

An important first point to realize is that each community is made up of systems of people that determine the future of their communities. How systems/people work together to reach that future is the heart of community development. Community systems include Health Care, Housing, Education, Transportation, Family Life, Criminal Justice/Safety, Employment/Income, Religious Organizations, City Management. Community development is people focused and people directed. All systems are interconnected as all people influence the quality of community life.

In some communities there can be a history of bias against people of certain races, ethnic groups, or gender, which is usually visible through a dangerous “we vs. them” attitude. Sometimes people in authority positions have no strong link to low-income or minority residents, and therefore have limited understanding of their situation.

Communities should work tirelessly to make sure different perspectives are brought to the table. What this really means is that there is room for every person at the planning table and people, yes you, determine your community’s collective future.

What can I bring to

the community table?

Participation in public decision making is free and open to all interested people. Its starts with understanding your own assets and strengths. If you look at the current community systems that you are a part of and if all people within your system are like-minded, it is time to diversify. Engage the diversity that exists within our community by reaching out to people according to their terms considering age, race, socio-economic status and gender.

Welcoming people that are not necessarily like you into your organization provides a broad representation of interests and it increases the breadth of perspective which is needed when making decisions that are equitable, allowing all people to succeed on their terms.

Listening to many voices and asking what people think from a frame work of relationships, is key to a successful, growing community. It is important to highlight that community development is strongly against making people dependent, instead, it is about developing people’s abilities to grow, learn, and ultimately become community leaders.

The best way to gather information from people is to ask them, making sure you understand the values and beliefs behind their suggestions. Fresh ideas and emerging trends bring new life to a community and people tend to trust what they have helped create.

What do you want your

community to look like?

Your individual gifts and knowledge will make a difference in New Ulm. Join a meeting, listen and work in partnership with people that share your interests. Diagnose issues if problems come up by discussing approaches to solving issues using a working relationship based on mutual understanding. Think creatively. Think outside the box. Take risks and use the collective assets of all community members to reach community solutions that New Ulm deserves.

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