Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Change and Relationship (Part 2)

In solving societal problems (e.g. cyclical poverty, homelessness, school-to-prison pipeline, etc.) we need to recognize the simple fact that it is a process of individual change. This change is not something easily gained, but is many times a life-altering, path-changing, last 15-minutes of ____ [insert popular romantic comedy title] realization.

From my personal experience and study of service programs, I believe radical individual change occurs through three distinct relationships: our connection to God/oneself, others, and society.

Once we understand this process (part 1), we should work backwards to design systems and services that foster healthy relationships to ensure inclusion and adoption which will lead to lasting change (thrilling conclusion in part 2).

Part 2: Designing services to compliment individual change

If you talk to Richmonders about impediments holding our city back, you’ll soon come upon the topic of broken regionalism, with blame being cast upon elected officials lack of political will.

Although public officials do their part to deserve blame, it has been too often used as a scapegoat. To me, it implies that change can only come from the top, and it allows for, what I think is an equal culprit, public apathy.

I start with this example because regardless of the topic, we need to understand that solutions to address long-standing problems will require public engagement and ownership. Therefore, in designing services to complement individual change, movements from the bottom-up (Operation Infiltration) and top-down (Operation Declaration) will be necessary to bring about systemic change in Richmond.

Operation Infiltration, is the classic grass-roots movement where individuals become educated and engaged in advocacy for relationship building in service application. Operation Declaration, details a top-down approach from government and private service providers to re-evaluate and restructure organizations to establish a framework and incentives for relationships with individuals and neighborhood-level service providers.

How does this work in Richmond? What do we need to continue? What do we need to change and how? Keep reading and I'll give you my impression of the RVA landscape and what needs to happen now.

Operation Infiltration

As described in part 1, to be the change you want to see, it must start with defining who your are or “Be.” Next in importance are your connections to others and society.

A great way to get to connect with others is to serve. Find an issue connected to who you define yourself to be and investigate. An easy step could be to look within your neighborhood. Talk to your neighbors or find a local service group and be intentional about putting in the time to develop a relationship.

A great tool to help facilitate this process is The Art of Neighboring. This website challenges individuals to know your tic-tac-toe grid of neighbors. Cities around the US have adopted this challenge and it could be easily started in Richmond, by a person like you. There are numerous online resources for neighbor-to-neighbor interaction from Facebook pages, to create your own webpage with Neighborland or Nextdoor

The Art of Neighboring tic-tac-toe challenge 
As you start connecting with others, you’ll need to get informed. 

A few favorites to review would be When Helping HurtsToxic Charities, or anything by John Perkins. Each of these book evaluate service practices in light of the relationships necessary for individual change. When you start to explore the issues raised in these resources, you’ll start to look at serving differently. Do you personally know the people you are serving? How do you define crisis vs. chronic needs, and are you applying the correct response?

From my experience in Richmond, there are places where this conversation is being had, and the movement is growing. Church Hill Academy and Tutoring (CHAT) started from neighbors gathering together to ask youth in the community what was needed for them to succeed. When the answer was tutoring, families opened up their homes and banded together to create a network of relationships that is creating systemic change in Church Hill today.

John Perkins spoke at St. Pauls Episcopal, May 2014 

Finally, you let your voice be heard. Speak up when serving in these organizations about change. Contact your elected representatives with thoughts and recommendations for solutions (I’ll detail mine next). This is essential to changing the status quo because those you are serving are usually not heard or intentionally dismissed. Help raise up voices and bring stories from these communities to the forefront.

Operation Declaration

As individual change begins with looking internally, so should this be followed in larger organizations by reevaluating their core vision, mission, and values.
Are relationships a priority? How do you facilitate and value the development of long-term relationships? Do you understand individual change?

In answering these questions with your organization, you’ll find areas to improve. Even if financial resources are restrained, orient your system to be as effective as possible in providing the necessary base for relationship development.

How can this be accomplished?

Larger private organizations/government should understand their role and limitations. Speaking more to my experience within the public sector, program efficiency increases as scope of services is targeted, or when action is as a facilitator providing support (e.g. technical, financial, or administrative) to smaller service providers.

Facilitators can aid, not supplant or duplicate, services being provided within local networks where relationships are being cultivated. Coming alongside to provide essential accounting, legal, or marketing needs - which is a stress on all service providers - will help alleviate operational burdens, thus allowing more time to be spent applying services and building relationships.

In Richmond, a great resource for all non-profits is ConnectVA. Through their website, social gatherings, and technical training they are working to increase the service provider network in Central Virginia.

Another terrific resource is VCU’s CreateAthon. What started as an annual 24-hour marketing blitz for non-profits is now a standalone entity. In their 8 years operation, they've provided 68 area non-profits with an estimated $1.3 million in branding and marketing pro bono services.

Fiscal incentives are necessary because _____ [insert a million reasons]. But honestly, in building relationships for rehabilitation, incentives are necessary because we are creatures of habit and want to adapt to the system of rewards in which we live. I’ve seen relationships being built with those in recovery, but if there are not tangible rewards along the way (e.g. job, loan, etc.), relapse is almost a given. Lasting individual change is built incrementally.

Government and larger organizations have resources available to reward those completing the time intensive task of developing relationships by providing grants or loans to financially reinforce social development.

The cost wouldn't have to be extensive. The City of Richmond’s Neighbor-2-Neighbor initiative offers small grants ($500-$900) to reward cooperation among neighbors for improvement projects. These small cost measures go a long way in helping recognize and support local relationship networks.

A second more drastic change would be to restructure these organizations to place relationship development as the top priority. This would involve a new approach to allocating time and resources, training workers, and services offered.

For City of Richmond government, I’d start by consolidating Departments of Planning Development and Review (PDR) and Economic & Community Development (ECD). Currently, these departments operate in a traditional, horizontally aligned, government bureaucracy where staff is trained in a specialty field or program.
The problem is that specialization is gained on a task, not on relationships with an individual or geographic level where relationships are fostered (e.g. neighborhood). For example, ECD administers neighborhood-level incentives and programs separate from PDR’s development regulations and long-range plans.

In my reorganization, one person would be assigned to a neighborhood as the single point of contact for all city incentives, development regulations, long-range plans, etc. This could be accomplished with the same number of staff, but would involve extensive retaining as individuals would be specialists in multiple areas. Specialists would still exist within city government, but would be a reference resource for the neighborhood contacts.

Next, I’d work to realign Social Services, Police, Health, Education, Housing (RRHA), and Parks & Recreation departments to establish neighborhood-level contacts. These services would be more effective if they had a physical presence in neighborhoods. Examples such as community policing concentrate resources on geographic areas with the goal of strengthening relationships.

Ladner Police Station, Chung Chow 2011
In talking with a police officer in the City of Hampton, I remember his story of working in a neighborhood community center, which housed health, police, and social services, where people were more forthcoming with information because they could build relationships with police in an informal setting.

To give order to this reorganization, I’d use the neighborhood master planning process to help plan and coordinate services. The city’s current neighborhood master plans are out-of-date and include details considered in traditional plans (e.g. land use, housing, environment, transportation), but not a wider range of social elements. By opening this process to include the community and departments, we can begin to design services that are planned and coordinated with local citizens.

Private service providers need to gain an understanding of chronic vs. crisis need. I’ve seen organizations undertake the self evaluation process to reflect upon current practices and ask hard questions. Once healthy relationships are recognized as the end goal, it permeates throughout every action. Administration reframe their mindset on time and resources, workers start asking questions about how to apply services, and greater responsibility is desired from those being served.

In Richmond, I’ve personally seen this in Area 10 Faith Community, and believe it is common practice at the Peter Paul Development Center, Northside Outreach Center, and Boaz and Ruth. What we need next is for national philanthropic organizations, similar to Salvation Army, take charge to ask hard questions about relationship development in the way services are applied.

Next, I’d challenge the faith and non-profit community to use their social capacity to start a relational movement. From history, Quakers and the Second Great Awakening of Christians that started the abolitionist movement to end slavery. During the civil rights era, social movements were organized and driven by this community with campaigns like “each one reach one, each one teach one” that challenged individuals to connect with others to increase awareness.What if we were to apply “each one reach one, each one teach one” to a need in Richmond? (It’s already in Charlotte) Could we have a mentor for each student in RPS? Could every homeless person know someone, or a group of people, in the community
to work alongside?


Informally, these faith networks within the region exist. Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities (RISC), a interfaith coalition of 16 diverse congregations, identified education improvement as their primary focus at their 2014 Community Problems Assembly. What needs to happen is for these groups to come together and rally behind a central goal. I’d agree with Scott Bass, writer for Style Weekly, who would questions why the current Mayor and Pastor, Dwight Jones, has not challenged the faith community to do more. If change were to start from faith leaders, neighborhood coalitions could be organized and focused on addressing local needs. An example to follow could be East End Fellowship’s community group training model which is training church members to lead relationship based service teams in Church Hill.

Pastors Don Coleman and Corey Widmer of East End Fellowship 

In the end, it starts with you.

For lasting change to occur, it’s got to be personal. Know yourself and be sure to connect with people close to you in this journey. Then, get engaged by intentionally starting relationships with people in an area you are passionate about.

For me, I’m going to act on my passion for education improvement in Richmond by serving students in RPS through mentorship/tutoring. Working with administrators and the Communities in Schools coordinator for Thomas Jefferson High School, I’ve got an opportunity to aid teachers by helping coordinate community service projects. 

If you’d like to join, because I’m going to need the help, please email me at garet.prior@gmail.com. My long term goal is to help inform and gain students input on the improvements needed for RPS.

For you, I’d say if you read this far I owe you a coffee or beer. Next, you need to start investigating your connections to God/oneself, others, and society. What are your beliefs? What do you need to change? And...how about starting now?

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