Let’s say you are part of an advocacy group that promotes the health benefits of vegetarianism.
You attend a community town hall where residents speak their concerns over what’s occurring in the community and request resources that can benefit the community.
You stand up to the microphone, introduce yourself and your advocacy group, and make a suggestion to host a gathering for residents on vegetarianism. You share all the good statistics: Eating a plant-based diet high in fiber, folic acid, and a whole bunch of vitamins can reduce high cholesterol, lead to better weight management, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart disease. You make a suggestion of having your group facilitate a number of workshops in the community.
A resident raises her hand and stands up. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables sounds good and all, she says, but she and other residents have tried unsuccessfully to bring a farmers market to the community. There’s community support for a farmers market as it will aid in increasing food security in the community, but there are concerns that getting food at a farmers market will be more expensive compared to the community grocery store. Also, the community cannot decide which area would be best to have the farmers market. The community grocery store is located near the community’s most used subway station. And speaking of the grocery store–it’s not a very pleasant shopping experience. Not only does the meat smell rancid, the fruits and vegetables look questionable. Many of the items are past the expiration date, and the store’s electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system doesn’t work most of the time. Having a farmers market in the neighborhood will not only give the community another option to buy food, but they can also use their EBT cards to buy items at the farmers market.
Another resident stands up. He’s interested in creating a community garden because he likes the idea of growing his own food so he doesn’t have to deal with the community grocery store. There are plenty of vacant lots in the community, and he knows of a large lot of land near the community’s recreation center. There’s a”For Sale” sign but he doesn’t know the first thing in purchasing land and wants to know if other member are interested in buying the lot with him. In fact, he has no idea how to grow fruits and vegetables.
One of the most social-worky phrase you will ever hear is “meet the client where they’re at”. When you’re working with an individual (or a community, for this example), you may have your own agenda. Despite best intentions, if you can’t understand what matters to the community, their concerns and their successes, you will never find a way “in”. In order to build a connection between yourself and the community, you have to establish trust. Your advocacy group’s ultimate goal is helping communities eat healthier, and this community is interested doing that, but maybe not in the way you envision. So, what’s one way to marry your goal to the goals of this community?
Conduct a community asset map.