Neighborhood Opportunity Network

Supporting one another in a time of crisis

Government Office or Neighborhood Center?

Posted by frankieblackburn on April 26, 2009

Change is slow, except when it is fast. Tom Hayden

After several more rounds of knocking on doors and hearing stories of families who do not know about or do not feel comfortable accessing government services, I am coming to the conclusion that the gap between people and services is even larger than many of us assumed. It is clear that we need to invest even more time reaching out and engaging people right where they live.  For example, a group of door knockers agreed yesterday that we need to now hold a free picnic on the grassy green area in the middle of a large apartment complex next weekend, one day before our scheduled Neighbors Exchange at the elementary school right down the road.

Another question I wrestle with is how to make sure the Neighborhood Service Centers feel comfortable and different from the experience many have encountered when they first approach a government office. We have to ensure that when those first few folks venture out of the safety of their homes and enter this new center, that their experience is very positive…so that they come back and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.

I believe one key component to ensuring that the Neighborhood Service Centers feel different and welcoming is to make sure the Community Connectors  who staff these centers feel empowered, celebrated and supported in shaping the environment.  We’ve made a big leap to envision a new role called Community Connectors and we’ve gone to great lengths to fill these positions with culturally competent and dedicated people from the neighborhood.  We now need to give them the freedom and the power – in shared leadership with project managers and emerging resident leaders – to be creative and take the risks needed to build a human bridge across this huge cultural gap in our community.  In my opinion, this step is the single most important strategy if we are to be successful in creating Neighborhood Service Centers that are not simply sattelite government offices.

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