Last September, I took my mother back to the small town in western North Carolina where I was born for her to visit friends and relatives. On Sunday, we attended church and the sermon was on serving the community. A phrase from the sermon rang true to me: “Community begins when two people sit down to talk.”
Flash back to 2005 and another road trip. This time to Mississippi a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. I was part of a response team working with the Mississippi Department of Health assisting them in reestablishing health and human services along the coast. On this particular day, we had called a meeting of key agency leaders in one of the few surviving buildings to discuss how they could assist in response and recovery. Expecting the kind of connections I experienced in Sarasota County, I was surprised that more than a few of the attendees did not know each other, their agencies were not working together, and they had no plan on how to respond to the disaster they were facing. I believe we had a successful meeting, but the lasting message that I took away from the experience is this:
When all is lost and there are no buildings or infrastructure around, the effort to recover and rebuild begins with the relationships and connections we establish within the community.
Each of our Aspirations to Actions teams are involved in applying the Harwood Institute's community conversation tools --whether they are in the planning stages, actually conducting the conversations, or possibly considering the results of the engagements.
I have observed several and I can see the value of the conversations in creating a sense of community and in beginning relationships and connections that will support the efforts the Aspirations to Actions groups in our region are undertaking. At one community conversation, a woman spoke passionately and eloquently about her community and her aspirations for its future. At the end of the session, she acknowledged that she was not an official, was not an expert, did not work for an agency and did not know what she could do, but she wanted to help.
Her words that day spoke volumes about the value of community conversations. She provided insight into the heart of her community’s concerns and she shared hopes for the future that helps frame possibilities for action. Both of these are essential to aligning the work ahead to truly meet community expectations. Perhaps, the most important contribution was her offer to help. She reached out to establish a relationship, to offer what she could to make her community better.
Community conversations, once completed and the results tallied, can become data for developing plans for positive action. Taking advantage of the offers to help provides an opportunity for continuing the conversations, establishes a lasting connection to the community, and builds relationships that will weather the storm.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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