How do you transform a community filled with hopelessness, despair, and violence? Where do you start in addressing homelessness, drugs, gangs, incarceration, broken families, and abuse? Do you bring in the cavalry and try to "save" the community?
Most community development efforts and social programs tend to "bring the solutions to the community," as opposed to looking from within. What worked in another town or state gets quickly replicated here. What the government agency targets and wants to measure becomes the vision and the expectation.
LifeLine believes that the most important way to begin is with the people in the community, asking questions and listening for answers. We ask community members:
- "What do you love about your neighborhood?"
- "If you could wave a magic wand and change any one thing about your community, what would it be?"
Answers to these questions help shape a unique vision that can transform the entire community and its people. Action plans emerge from questions and answers like these, not from external sources.
LifeLine holds to the maxim that "we cannot help individuals permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves." Instead, we focus on doing for individuals the things they cannot do alone.
This type of community transformation is a slow and labor-intensive process, but it's the very best way to begin. We talk to a lot of people before a shared vision starts to emerge. And once it bubbles up, we have to resist from letting external agencies come in and take over, implementing a vision that is intended to benefit everyone, but not involve anyone.
Community development means developing the community and its people, raising new capacities, and empowering new leaders.