[ed Joe's query is an important issue that many organizations face, so please copy COMM-ORG with your responses.]
From "Joe Clarke" <email@example.com>
I wanted to know if anyone has had any experience organizing at theblock level. Our situation is that there are block captains, but many lose interest due to lack of support from their neighbors, the city or other neighborhood institutions. Thanks for your help.
Joe Clarke, M.S.W.
Parish Outreach Program
Catholic Social Services
Philadelphia, PA 19143
From "Doug Hess" <DHess@frac.org>
What do you want your block captains to do? What are response from their neighbors do you expect them to have? What kind of neighborhood/community is this?
Block captains are one of those "wouldn't it be easy if..." ideas in organizing. It seems so seductively logical to have block captains. Sort of like that "gee, if we could just get each member to sign up one more member, we would double our size..." Never happens...
In other words, I think block captains are extremely labor intensive networks to keep going. Who supervises them or supports them? How well trained is this support person? Do you have a way to recognize them periodically? Depending on what your group wants to accomplish, they may not be the right tool, too. Tell us more about what you want to do in general and I 'm sure others on here will have plenty of ideas....
Food Research and Action Center
Senior Policy Analyst
1875 Connecticut Ave, NW #540
Washington, DC 20009
ph. 202-986-2200 ext 3027
From "Mary S. Dailey" <NWBCCC@igc.org>
Block organizing is a corner stone to many neighborhood based groups but to be successful those clubs need to be reorganized on a regular basis with an eye to identifying potential leaders that will become involved in broader efforts to demand municipal services and capital improvements. The Northwest Neighborhood Federation in Chicago, Illinois is an excellent example of an organization that block organizing as a way to identify new leaders who then emerge through neighborhood associations that are essentially chapters of the Federation. The Federation is able to tackle policy issues and is one of the organizations that has mounted a campaign to increase school construction funds at the City, State and Federal level. NNFs email address is NNF1@xsite.com
From Gene Allen <gallen@UNHS.ORG>
We have been organizing block associations since 1994. Over the years we have had 164 blocks sign up. Currently we have approximately 125 blocks on our list. Of those about 90 are truly active.
Our Association of Block coalitions recently won a HUD Local Best Practices Award and it has also been cited for best practices for 2 years running by, the New York Puerto Rico district of Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation.
Following is the summary from NRC's Best Practices
1. Accept that block associations usually fall into one of three categories active, inactive and developing. Some groups meet regularly and then stop when there are no serious issues to address. Each group is unique, has different needs and will work within different timelines.
2. Begin the program by focusing on the residents in the neighborhood. The objective is for residents to work together and address issues themselves. UNHS gives residents the needed tools and training, but residents need to embrace the program and be deeply involved in order for the program to succeed.
3. Develop a vision for the program and discover the neighborhood's potential. Recognize positive characteristics of the community and identify attributes to be preserved. Learn what needs to change within the neighborhood.
4. Persevere. There are obstacles to face with any new program, so be prepared to face pitfalls. Be sure to communicate to residents that they are not going to be able to solve every problem in their community, but will be able to resolve many specific issues.
5. Turn the vision into reality, piece by piece. Be patient and concentrate on one effort at a time.
6. Build partnerships. This takes time, but it is very important to build favorable relationships with the police department, fire department, city government, media and neighborhood residents. Neighborhood Reinvestment has great resources available and is an important partner. Churches, businesses and schools are vital partners as well. UNHS uses schools for neighborhood meetings, plus schools are an avenue to connecting with active youth. Literally, any person or organization in the community is a potential partner in this program.
7. Celebrate program successes. Recognition is very important, so inform the community of what neighborhood groups are accomplishing. Report project results in the newspaper and on TV and host block parties or other activities to acknowledge the time and effort put in by residents.
8. Be a good listener and be patient. Residents may be angry at first and may need to ventilate concerns and frustrations. It is important to listen to what they have to say. Subsequently, residents move into the realization stage, then on to the action stage where they begin to address problems. The final stage is preservation. Most block clubs need help staying connected once serious issues have been addressed. It is UNHS's desire to help groups venture through these stages and help them stabilize and continue.
9. Planning is essential. Always be brainstorming new ideas. Groups need new projects to carry out and new matters to address. It is also important to formulate new ways of recognizing residents. Be creative and inventive. Look for opportunity. Carpe Diem!
For more information, contact
Gene Allen, Community Director
UNHS NeighborWorks® HomeOwnership Center
1611 Genesee St.
Utica, NY 13501
From "Kevin Yoho - 215.704.2873" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am a Philadelphia neighbor and appreciate your inquiry about block captain issues. I have been involved with neighborhood organizing and neighborhood-building activities for many years in Kensington, east and north Philadelphia, as a pastor, community leader, and as the director of a faith-based collaborative. I am working with youth violence reduction issues (the city's Youth Violence Reduction Project), building faith-based capacities in Philadelphia, and working with adjudicated at-risk youth. I saw your post on @comm-org.wisc.edu today.
Block captains do lose interest. You summarized some of the negative energies captains face in your situation description. I think the issues with captains is more pointedly about systemic issues in the neighborhoods. In resource-depleted neighborhoods, block captains as well as their neighbors, lack hope that anything will ever change for the better. Hopelessness reigns, violence increases, businesses move, neighbors relocate, social services withdraw, and finally even churches close. When there is a persistence of poverty, violence, and what could be characterized as economic, governmental, and ecclesiastical red-lining, block captains find themselves pretty much fighting solo. What's a captain to do?
In Kensington, we have had some success with a multi-layered intervention which builds ground-level collaborations with "truly-present" institutional assets, (i.e. "residential" churches, public organizations and associations, schools, and private/government entities like Philadelphia Safe and Sound). The bigger entities function as context-sensitive empowerment.
We have sought to build trust in neighborhoods where fear dominates. We have established safe zones for kids and ways to remind the neighborhood and the residents that they are valuable and that God loves them right where they are. With lots of small steps we demonstrate that systemic transformation can be experienced through collaborations and partnerships. Thus, block captains, instead of being alone, become part of a neighborhood leadership development program. Hope replaces the despair and stigma. Murals replace graffiti. When we increased the capacity of these primary institutions over a period of years through personal contact, resource building, connecting activities and our monthly prayer breakfasts, for example, we found a gradual reduction of despair and a greater inclination of neighbors and the institutions themselves to take personal responsibility for the neighborhood they are in. The outcome has been more, hopeful, block captains in a more hopeful neighborhood.
Admittedly, the sustainability of the intervention and its desired outcomes are always the tougher thing to nurture. We are still learning as we go and welcome your feedback and that of other list members.
With best wishes,
Dr. Kevin Yoho, D.Min.
Kensington Hope, Inc.
P.O. Box 26854
Philadelphia, PA 19134-6854
Our mission is to increase the capacity of Kensington faith-based organizations and agencies to become visible signs of hope in their neighborhoods.
Be watching for a better reason to surf the net when we debut kensingtonhope.org Coming this summer to the World Wide Web near you! Hey, sneak preview is up now while under construction.
Here is how to reach me...
To God be the glory, to the earth be peace, to the people be courage, and to the city be hope.
Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but the mouth of the wicked.
From Larry Yates <email@example.com>
I have done some neighborhood organizing with block captains, and a lot of the grassroots environmental fights we are involved in function at this level.
There's a lot of context missing from this question. But overall, I would say that block captains should not be dependent on support from "the city" and maybe not on "other neighborhood institutions." They should have the ability to communicate to their neighbors -- otherwise they aren't right for the task -- but their neighbors may also be apathetic or cynical, especially if there are no raging issues on the front burner, so neighbors may indeed provide little support.
Realistically, the support group for block captains is probably other block captains -- their peers, who probably share similar conditions, frustrations and successes.
My main context question is what are these block captains doing? Are they part of a larger campaign, are they fighting for small wins at the block level, or are they just kind of passively in place because it seems right to have a block captain system? Each situation requires different support systems.
People don't "lose interest" when they are struggling for something that amtters to them. (They may burn out, give up, sell out, etc, but they don't just fade away.)
Of course, part of the "fix" here, if the situation really needs to fixed, should be to talk to the block captains, and find out what has happened between the point where they cared enough to volunteer to be a block captain, and the point where they lose interest.
Overall, it sounds like this is a really a question about the overall mission of which the block captains are a part.
Center for Health, Environment & Justice
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From "Vidal, Avis" <AVidal@ui.urban.org>
Building Blocks in Chicago might have some useful ideas. They pulled together some pre-existing block clubs + organized additional blocks, which gave them enough heft, e.g. with their local council person, to be able to work on larger, neighborhood-wide issues that folks really cared about.
The Urban Institute
2100 M Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037
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From Linda Bosma <email@example.com>
We've used the block as a unit of organizing in Minneapolis around crime prevention issues. A few lessons Be relevant--address things that are issues on that block; Be flexible--the block may need to be an apartment building/complex, or an intersection, or multiple blocks; Provide clear expectations that the group sets itself for what the block leader/captain will do; Provide any necessary training and support; Have two or more people be co-captains/leaders--it makes it easier to share the load, and doesn't leave a gap in leadership if one leader moves. We've used block organizing out of the neighborhood organization, and it is a way to focus neighborhood resources on the specific issues of one block/area of the neighborhood, so they can address their specific concerns, rather than a pre-set set of criteria from the organization.