“Love,” one spoke. “Tranquil,” said another. “Reconnect,” said a third. Gathered in a circle in the spacious Angora Room of the Clarkston Community Center, 40 conference attendees each offered a single word to describe their feelings.
The circle included organization leaders, professionals both young and old, and Clarkston community workers of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Together, they had spent two days sharing each other’s stories, performing with one another, touring Clarkston, and wrestling together with the meaning and possibilities of their work as community organizers.
They were gathered to conclude the first day of Focus on Connection, a two-day event held to explore and practice strategies and principles of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). The three workshops offered over the course of the conference were tailor-made to push the participants to the edges of their comfort zones. In each workshop, participants reflected on their individual gifts, talents and backgrounds, and pushed each other to reflect on their roles as members and leaders of their communities.
Building Community through Listening, for example, began with participants closing their eyes and asking themselves, “ Who am I?” After listing people, principles, and the turning points in their lives that had shaped them, they were encouraged to use arts and crafts to creatively represent who they are.
Similarly, in Playback Theater, participants chose from a selection of costume items, then crafted and named superheroes based on the individual gifts and talents each had listed. They then were asked to use these superhero personas to solve a problem that a community organizer might face in their daily work.
Finally, in Principles of ABCD, participants learned to approach community organization with an eye for their community’s assets, as opposed to its deficits. Participants were taught to identify the talents, resources, and skills that every community brings to the table, and to help them leverage these assets in an effort to reach the community’s goals.
These workshops forced participants to become more aware of their roles as active listeners, and to learn to observe both themselves and the people they are speaking to in any given situation. Through collaboration and reflection, many participants noticed that the experiences of others would resonate with their own experiences, and give them a deeper understanding of their own individual gifts.
Not only did participants gain a deeper understanding of their own gifts and deficits, but they learned to identify and nurture all the assets intrinsically present in the community they work with. In a tour of Clarkston, they were shown the history and heritage of this highly diverse and international community.
Focus on Connections was a collaboration of the Clarkston Community Center, Clarkston Development Foundation, Decatur Family Y, CFBC Community Development Center, United Way, GA Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Refugee Family Assistance Program, and DeKalb County. The event was hosted by the Clarkston Community Center.