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What is the most challenging part of working within community development?

Where do most of the frustrations lie when considering the work done within community development and community services? #community-management #community-development #community-outreach #familyservices #urbanplanning #careers


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Kathy’s Answer

Hi, Gabrielle! It is awesome that you are thinking about a career in community development. This is a space that is getting lots of attention right now in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Identifying the most challenging part of working in this area is difficult because community development crosses many overlapping industries. Some examples are: access to quality healthcare, economic impact like low cost payday loans or starting a small business, access to healthy foods, clean water / environmental issues, jobs and so on. Your first step should be to narrow your focus a little bit so that you don't spread yourself so thin that you cannot be effective.

It is often a challenge to be heard among the many competing voices. To combat this, start by attending local meetings like school boards, library boards, or city/village board meetings. Also churches, League of Women Voters, etc. Most are open to the public and it is a great way to get to meet like-minded people and so that you can start to network. It will also identify anyone that is already working on a project you are interested in to see if you can join them!

Also, try researching some existing projects to see what has worked (or not) and why. Financial Health Network is a good example of a group that is doing some interesting work. https://finhealthnetwork.org/ You can avoid and overcome many challenges by learning from others who have failed and/or succeeded.

Finally, you should be prepared to understand how state and local government policy impacts any initiatives you are considering. Getting permission and/or funding for projects can be a big challenge, but on the plus side, there is private and government grant money to help.

Best of luck! I'd love you hear back from you as you begin your journey.

Kathy recommends the following next steps:

Get out there now! All of the advice in the world is no substitute for you rolling up your sleeves and learning about what your community needs.
Start by getting out into the community and meeting people.
Identify people who are like minded and well respected who can mentor you or you you can get a foot in the door
Learn. You are at the beginning of your career and a hiccup along the way is fine. Better to start and fail than to never get going. Just keep learning from each experience.

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Kim’s Answer

"Community Development" is often perceived as a fancy way of saying "Gentrification." We are seeing it here in San Antonio. Take the poor, blighted neighborhoods, offer the property owners what sounds to them like a lot of money, buy up the properties, fix them up, and sell them for a small fortune. And the tenants who were renting these houses? Good question. Where can they rent for the low price they used to pay? Obviously the blight looks bad. But where is the human interest side of things? I think that will be one of the biggest challenges that you face.

And then there are those who come along with plans to employ and educate people, who, quite honestly, are content to live the way they do. They may suffer from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, etc., but, they ARE getting by just fine, in their opinion.

Don't let this scare you off, but just be prepared as to how you will address it. Outsiders with grand plans will not be welcomed, no matter how you present it. I recommend you read up on how other cities address these problems.

Kim

Yes, I have read some about this, and have seen what has happened in Detroit. I used to live in a suburb of Detroit, and the changes within the city is remarkable, especially considering price point. The shift in interest and opportunity from "drivable suburbanism" to "walkable urbanism" has greatly influenced changes within cities that may have previously been seen as less than desirable to actually live in. Thanks for your advice. Gabrielle B.

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Erin’s Answer

Hi Gabrielle:

I work inside companies managing the way the company impacts the community. It's a different take on the work I think you're interested in, but I bet there are a lot of the same challenges.

One of the biggest challenges in these types of roles is that there are a never ending set of things that you can get done and problems you can try to tackle. Staying focused and pick the area you want to make an impact on can be a helpful tool to feel like you're making progress.

It's also important to listen to those who live in or know about the communities you want to impact - too often folks come in trying to make things better, without realizing they are making things worse by not addressing the issues that the residents of that community care about. I would encourage you to show up - be it at community meetings, nonprofits, school board meetings and hear from the community about their needs before deciding how you want to help.

You'll always have critics, it's important to hear them out, but try not to let them derail your focus and your passion. Find peers who are engaged in the same work so you can support one another on the tough and frustrating days and hold each other up to celebrate the successes!

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