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March 8, 2011 / HandsOnCorps

The Power of Relationships

For the last several months I have been working to build relationships in a struggling neighborhood with a host of political and economic issues. Poverty, drug abuse, and inadequate housing and educational resources abound, and the dedicated community leaders and nonprofit employees in the area work themselves to the bone day and night trying to protect the community’s interests and create lasting change for the future. Since August, I have been trying to provide capacity-building resources to the community and encourage them to take advantage or volunteers as well as other technical assistance. But given the tremendous needs within the community, it has been hard as an unfamiliar outsider to catch the attention of this community’s movers and shakers

So for several months now, I have tried to become more of an insider. I show up as often as possible to community meetings and listen to what the leaders need – trying to connect them with resources or tools that can help them in their work.  I had experienced very little response to my efforts, until recently.

At a meting in January, I noticed a significant difference in the way I was received. For the first time, people were stopping by to speak with me.  Several leaders even recognized me personally and remembered my name and why I was there. I was able to speak with several people about all the great work they are doing, and I was also able to personally invite them to an upcoming training we were hosting.  The training was on using online tools and social media to support social justice – a topic many of these leaders had expressed a need for.

A few days later, we hosted the training and several community members that I had never even met before showed up! I was surprised to see how many there were, especially given that I had not met these folks personally. I later learned that the people I had spoken with personally had gone out and promoted the training to those they thought could benefit.  Being that the suggestion came from someone they knew and respected, many more came than I could ever have hoped to touch myself. Several people from the community stayed to speak with the volunteer trainer after the workshop, and the new attendees were some of the biggest proponents of the training’s value.

This community, like many other marginalized and poor communities, is very aware of their need for tools, strategies and resources to spread their words to the rest of the county and beyond – but even with this knowledge, they often find it difficult to make the necessary connections to access these resources. The relationships between the volunteer trainer, my organization, the community meeting attendees, and their friends and colleagues, while convoluted, resulted in just the right match in the end. These connections between community leaders and knowledgeable volunteers are invaluable in the long run and will benefit the community for years to come.

Although it can be difficult at times to see the value of the relationships we form, their impact is both tremendous and lasting.  Vital connections between people working tirelessly to create change and those who provide knowledge to facilitate that change are made possible by a web of relationships the power of our relationships.

 

Leah Verghese
Partnership Americorps VISTA, Programs
Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership of Marin
Blog: Capacity for Change

 

 

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