Big News! Addison Agen is partnering with NeighborLink for a benefit concert with proceeds to go back to our mission! This week’s vlog goes into our work promoting the event and why NeighborLink has opted for a concert rather than a fundraising gala.
Last week, while I was in training as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I realized just how much NeighborLink is working to empower and engage the local community. The entire goal of my research project is to build relationships with people in the neighborhood and hear what their desires and needs are for their neighborhood. But there is not often a clear channel to use to reach everyone in a neighborhood, which has prompted me to think creatively, and this is what led me to volunteer at the Franciscan Center, a local food bank, located in the Pettit-Rudisill Neighborhood.
Pettit-Rudisill has the largest population of the five neighborhoods I am studying but has been the most difficult for me to reach since it has few natural meeting places such as parks or local businesses. So, in an attempt to meet more residents of the neighborhood, I went out to serve. I spent 5 hours, handing out food and trying to become familiar to those who came through the line at the food pantry, so hopefully, the next time I walk through the neighborhood, I will be able to strike up a conversation more naturally.
Working at the food pantry was also a way to challenge my stereotypes and assumptions about those dealing with food insecurity. Instead of just thinking about statistics and programs, I saw people in their unique struggles, with their unique talents and abilities.
What started to hit home as I handed out cans, was just how many unmet needs there were. I saw a 30-year-old woman bending over and squinting to read the label on a can, indicating that she needs glasses. I saw many people pass through the line that were missing teeth, which can reduce job options and impair eating and speaking. I saw people bowed down with back issues and limping. They struggled to walk through the tables and wrestled with situating their bags as prepared to carry their food home.
These observations helped me piece together the factors that led people to the food pantry, and figure out new points to get input from those in the neighborhood. One idea that came from this week, is that throughout September, I will bring maps of the 5 neighborhoods we are studying, and ask people if they live in any of them. My aim is to develop a better understanding of the food pantry's clientele, to assess possible food insecurities and how our neighbors can best serve them.
All of this research and the relationships gained by being physically present in the neighborhood will then be used to spark discussions with the neighbors in Pettit-Rudisill, to empower them, rather than keep them dependent to our or any other organization.
I firmly believe that empowerment must be the cornerstone of community development and neighborhood revitalization in order for character and assets to be leveraged and deficiencies corrected. Empowerment means that the neighbors themselves are the ones with the ultimate decision power for their community, rather than an outside organization that can only see glimpses of the full context.
To better understand the idea of empowerment, think of it as if you break your leg and when you go to the doctor, she only cares about making sure your vaccinations are up to date. Technically, the doctor gave you medical care. But it wasn’t the care you wanted, or possibly even needed at that moment. In the same way, many programs don’t work because they don’t actually get at the core needs and problems that neighbors care about or struggle with.
We want to help engage neighbors and empower them to build up their community, and the only way that works is if we know what is hurting them. My challenge and a challenge for all of you is to suspend judgment and listen carefully to the stories and the needs of those around you, so my service and yours can be healing.