Gatekeepers, or resident leaders as we call them at HandsOn, are people in the neighborhood who know a lot of other neighbors, know the rich history, give you access to other contacts/neighbors and are the people who have their “ear to the ground,” so to speak. Why are they important? These leaders know what’s going on in the neighborhood where you work and are your best source of information and leadership. Resident leaders should be a HandsOn Corps’ member’s best friend.
Ms. Pat is one such leader. She has lived in the Waughtown community (specifically the area surrounding Forest Park Elementary School) for over 20 years. She is very active in the community, including working a full-time job, volunteering at the YWCA and gives back through her church. When listening to Ms. Pat speak about her neighborhood and her vision for it, it nearly made me cry. Her vision is what so many other neighbors want too, but haven’t shared with each other because of cultural or language barriers. Ms. Pat is going to be an integral part of Neighboring efforts in this area, especially with the community meals program that will begin in early December. Together with HandsOn Northwest NC, the church, where Ms. Pat attends, will begin to host free community meals to neighbors in order to build trust in a safe environment. Her hope is that neighbors will begin communicating with each other, get to know one another, and build a web of relationships that will bear the fruit of love and understanding.
Upon speaking with Ms. Pat about the neighbor-led aspect of Neighboring, a giant light bulb illuminated over her head. She became very excited and was full of excellent project ideas. She immediately explained that she had always wanted to learn how to write grants to support these projects. Long story short, we will be sure to train Ms. Pat in grant writing to support Neighboring efforts in her community. We are currently working to ensure she receives a scholarship to a formal grant writing class with a partner institution as well.
Finding Ms. Pat took time, and several connections were made before Morgan, our new AmeriCorps VISTA, reached her. After two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member doing Neighboring work in a partner school and in the community surrounding it, I’ve learned this: Neighboring is all about developing relationships (trust) and recognizing your partners (including neighbors) for who they are and not necessarily what they can do for you. If you do that well, the projects, community development, and better days for everyone will follow.
As I leave HandsOn NWNC in November, I won’t worry about Neighboring efforts at Forest Park Elementary and in the neighborhood surrounding it. Morgan will continue these efforts, together with Ms. Pat and all the other partners that have dedicated time and energy to improving their school and neighborhood. Stay tuned for Morgan’s update in February…
Michelle, HandsOn Corps VISTA