Written by Madelyn Lazorchak, NeighborWorks Communications Writer
Even at a distance, residents find ways to work together. During the pandemic, NeighborWorks network organizations continued to generate ideas through NeighborWorks America’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI), and continued to find ways to improve their communities. Some in-person projects stayed in-person once restrictions on gathering together in groups eased. Other projects went virtual, like a course at Self-Help Enterprises that focused on discussions around potable water.
As NeighborWorks network organizations travel with teams of resident leaders to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the first in-person leadership institute since 2019, staff and resident leaders recall some projects that help make communities places of opportunity.
By the book
CaDeidra Jarmon, coordinator of Community Building and Engagement for Interfaith Community Housing in Delaware, attended the virtual CLI with her team in 2021. That year, they needed a project that could work well while social distancing, so the group focused on the learning gap that many families had experienced during the pandemic, with a specific goal: They would collect books that reflected the community. That meant books by Black or Brown authors, Jarmon says. They collected both books for young people and books for adults, and collected the first batch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We asked the surrounding community, schools, teachers and more,” Jarmon says. “We knew a lot of people would want to give back to the community.”
They received hundreds of books and did both giveaways and readings. They also made the books available for their summer youth ambassador program, where students organized the books and made them available to residents. The project is ongoing.
Jarmon says that the CLI – whether in person or virtual – “helps bring us together, giving us sessions that take us in the right direction. With the CLI and NeighborWorks backing us and giving us so many supports, our residents and CLI team feels supported and excited to do the work.“
Nnamdi Chuckawa was a member of the team, helping build alliances and reach, and agrees that the main take-away from the CLI was the community recognizing a need and being able to come together to address that need.
“The CLI showed that we can use what’s in our community to change our community.,” Chuckaway says. “When we focus on equity, diversity and including all voices – having residents connect with literature and the arts through materials that were culturally relevant to them – it showed them they matter. Their voices, challenges, hopes and opportunities deserve to be heard and recognized. It really made a difference in promoting literacy and the arts that reflect our community.“