7 tips to keep in mind when working with distressed communities

My time as a Community Fellow in Savannah has taught me a few lessons that I’m sure others are aware of but I figured I’d share just to document them:

posted originally to Facebook

When working with distressed communities:

  1. Facilitate self-empowerment from within, don’t helicopter in with shiny objects from outside.

  2. Respect the work that’s already been done by those who have lived there. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, seek to lift up existing efforts rather than create your own interventions.

  3. Exercise radical humility. No matter how many degrees you may have or how impressive your CV might be, locality knowledge is always of more value than book knowledge.

  4. Be wary of the perception of partnering too closely with official institutions. There’s a reason distressed communities suffer economic stagnation, and the actions or inactions of official institutions typically have a good deal to do with the issues at hand. Collaborate with those powers but ensure that you don’t let them define your efforts.*

  5. Build trust by showing up without an agenda. Get to know people. Empathize. Talk about what’s going well, not just the problems.

  6. Listen more, speak less. You’re not the expert. The resident is. No exceptions.

  7. Build a movement.

*Language here reworded slightly to reflect the nuances of not labeling people as ‘vulnerable’ at the suggestion of Elder Erika K. Hardnett.

Post turned into a wiki but before adding to the list, post in comments below. Once your contribution receives two ‘hearts’ add it to the list. Be sure to credit yourself!


:100: endorse. I’ve been volunteering in day support at our housing resources center and w/ youth groups in public housing and this is exactly what I’ve learned and experienced. I’m going to paste this all over Code for VA Slack :smiley:

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“Show me, don’t tell me” is another bit of advice I’ve picked up.

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You can heart your post and add that as number 8. May want to describe what exactly is meant.