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The absolute bedrock of our foundational thinking in our comprehensive community building work is that “community building happens at the speed of trust.” The critical point is that until we earn the trust of those we serve, we have nothing. Our efforts mean little if we do not, by our actions, show our community that we care and want to make a difference. This effort absolutely coincides with our regular Ask, Align, Act model of community engagement. The community’s voice drives our work. In meetings with community members, a circle of asking, listening, and responding ensures that the community’s voice is heard. From there, we align often significant resources and act to make their vision a reality.
In a recent presentation to a national funder, one of our staff so clearly articulated why our work requires building relationships at the personal level. The staff person discussed our thirteen Family Engagement Liaisons (FELS) that are embedded in every Normandy Schools Collaborative building. Their role is to address the needs outside of the classroom that prevent the children from fully accessing what the Normandy Schools Collaborative has to offer each day. In describing the critical work of our FELS, Ms. Frondel Green, our longest tenured FEL, described the work to this funder in such a simple yet profound way.
What we know happens next is that the children tell their parents, grandparents or other caregivers what kindness we gave them. When your name goes home in this way, that is when the real relationship begins.
Though I cannot recall her exact choice of words, I will try my best to capture the essence of what she said: Our children face so many challenges each and every day. Our job, our mission, is to be here for them no matter what they may need. If that means washing their clothes, we do that. If that means combing their hair, we do that. If that means giving them something to eat, we do that. If that means giving them schools supplies, we do that. If that means giving them a long, loving hug or telling them everything is going to be alright, we do that too. What we know happens next is that the children tell their parents, grandparents or other caregivers what kindness we gave them. When your name goes home in this way, that is when the real relationship begins. Because then, everyone in the home knows that we truly love their child and they can count on us to care for their child no matter what. Then if there is a challenge the family is facing, and there will be, we are viewed as someone who can be trusted and looked to for help.
When your name goes home. I just love that phrase. It speaks to who I want Beyond Housing to be each and every day. I want everyone in this community to know beyond reproach that this organization cares and loves this community and everyone who lives here. I want our name to go home to every household in the 24:1 footprint just as Ms. Green has her name go home to all the families of Jefferson Elementary School.
Often I am asked, “what’s the most important aspect of our work?” Most folks want me to say housing or education, or jobs or health. Nope. Trust is the answer. A trust that only happens when we show our sincere commitment to listening to the voices of those we serve and then working with them to make this place they call home everything they want it be.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.