Neighboring is an asset- and empowerment-based approach that engages underserved and underresourced community members to find innovative, sustainable solutions to address local challenges. Asset-based refers to the acknowledgment that all members of a community can offer something to improve the community: talents, skills, knowledge, or resources. The resident-led approach primarily focuses on a specific geographic area (i.e., ZIP code, neighborhood, or street) in which the majority of the volunteers, activities, and organization come from within a community.
You can implement Neighboring as new, locally identified programming. But you can also incorporate the principles into existing programs and program models.
Take a look at your current practices for community engagement and define the communities your current initiatives
and programs’ impact. The definition may be geographic—a neighborhood—or it may focus on a stakeholder group, such as a school or nonprofit partner organization.
The Neighboring principles of asset identification and community engagement and empowerment can be incorporated into many aspects of your organization. Think about
- Who is on your Board or advisory group? Do residents of the under-resourced community your organization impacts have an opportunity for input about your priorities and goals?
- Do you know the local community leaders for the community you’re working in? Do they know you?
- As you create a new project or continue an existing one, do you consult community residents for project focus, activities, and overall plan?
Service projects. Do representatives of the partner organization’s client base provide input into the program model? Do they sign on to volunteer?
- Example: Adult ESL tutoring program. Residents who will participate offer their priorities for learning and provide input about their learning styles, the best location for tutoring, and preferred times. Local community leaders who learned English as a second language participate as volunteer and project leaders along with external volunteers.
Days of Service. Have residents of the community to be served participated on planning teams, provided input into the projects, and signed on to volunteer on the day of service?
- Example: MLK Day. Community residents from a priority neighborhood are supported in identifying one-day service project priorities, neighborhood leaders support recruitment efforts, and a project is developed to clean a local park and build benches. Volunteers come from the local community as well as the city at large.
Youth Service Learning. Are youth engaged in asset mapping exercises before developing their service projects? Are parents and other local community members engaged in the project?
- Example: Students from a fifth grade class conduct an asset-mapping exercise for their school community, identifying the skills of teachers, parents, and students. They decide to develop a lunchtime reading program, which will engage parents, teachers, and students in reading with one another, developing skills in parents and students simultaneously.
Financial Stability. Have local community members identified financial stability as a priority area? Have you partnered with local institutions (faith, schools, nonprofits, government) to develop the new programs? Have those institutions identified community leaders to engage as advisers, program developers, and volunteers?
To effectively weave Neighboring principles into existing organization practices, initiatives, and programs:
- Invite community residents from the under-resourced communities your organization impacts to provide advice and feedback into organization goals and priorities.
- Engage community residents in project planning. Ask them to provide feedback into current projects.
- Get to know the community leaders for the communities you work with.
- Define the community geographical, by client base (via a partner organization), and demographically.
- Engage community residents to volunteer. Don’t run your program with volunteers who are all externally based.
Have you built neighboring into already existing programs? Let us know in the comments!