If you happened to be at Penn Station on Sunday August 19th, you would have been surrounded by neighborhood advocates eagerly awaiting the Amtrak train to the NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) in Philadelphia. An NTI is an opportunity for anyone interested in community development to take courses, learn from organizations and community leaders from around the country, and network. This training opportunity is a pillar of NeighborWorks America, which is a national organization that works to strengthen communities by supporting local community organizations through training, technical assistance, and grant making. From classes on community engagement and neighborhood revitalization to housing counseling certifications and grant writing courses, NTI is a place for anyone working for a better community to learn and grow.
We talked to five NTI attendants from organizations around Baltimore about their experiences at the institute and the impact of those experiences on their everyday work in supporting strong communities in Baltimore. Funders in Baltimore and beyond made this opportunity possible for our community leaders by providing scholarships to cover conference costs for participants. The five NTI participants interviewed received support from Wells Fargo, Goldseker Foundation, The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, and NeighborWorks. Here’s what they have to say about their experience in Philly:
At Christina’s first NeighborWorks Training Institute her experiences helped to validate many of her thoughts and impressions about the field of community development. “I think what stood out for me most was that developing youth and organizing them to help within the community can really help to solve a lot of the other issues/problems within the community. Another thing was to keep programs going throughout the year to organize members; the worst thing you can do is stop during the cold months…it ruins the momentum that you’ve created during the spring, summer, and fall.”
Christina also found inspiration in the city of Philadelphia itself. Below are her pictures from a vacant lot development project in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Drawing from lessons in effective asset community building and real world examples of vacant lot development and developing youth as community leaders in the city of Philadelphia, has empowered her in the conversations that she has with residents and community partners in Belair-Edison.
Jacqueline Caldwell, President
One of Jackie’s most influential courses was The Asset Building Community Development workshop. This course focused on communicating your message through emphasizing a community’s assets, rather than the community’s deficits. Developing the dialogue in this way has impacted the way that Jackie communicates with the media as well as potential partners and funders.
Jackie’s main takeaway? “It was great to be around people who truly have a heart- we are committed to making a positive change in our community…I learned that I am not alone when it comes to the need for operating support and positive collaborations.”
, Rental Services Administrative Assistant
, St. Ambrose
“I gained more awareness of the various functions of my department and appreciation for others. When I came back to the office I told Bill [Director of Rental Services] how much I appreciated all of the responsibility he held as the Director… and the maintenance staff too, their job is so important to what we do.”
Judy exchanged numbers with some of her collegues that she made strong connections with from around the country and enjoyed learning alongside others with similar goals from places as far away as California and Alaska. She commented that she was able to learn a lot about the affordable housing industry by listening to and comparing the everyday practices of rental agencies from around the country.
Dr. Frank Lance,Treasurer,
“Two of the three courses I took changed what I do daily. The first, Engaging Universities within your Community was most helpful as I have both Coppin and BCCC in Greater Mondawmin. The course materials have helped me to open doors and see possibilities I did not approach well before.The second course, Getting the Press on Your Side, has helped me to understand what is press worthy from the media’s perspective and to then write press releases that will get their attention.”
For Frank, his week in Philadelphia was “definitely time well spent because of the material learned and the connections made.” Frank was able to form a strong connection with his course instructors who have made themselves available if their support is ever needed in the future. Spending time with others facing the same challenges and working towards the same goals was also a source of inspiration for Frank, “I am not alone in my struggles with my issues. And, someone else has been there before and can offer help and advice.”
Tiffany Welch, MSW, Healthy Food Access and Food Justice Organizer,
Tiffany’s course on effective communication has influenced her day to day work as an advocate for her community. Informing and engaging members of her community as well as recruiting supporters and funders all takes the ability to succinctly communicate your message in a way that grabs the attention of others. Developing this skill is important and meaningful for Tiffany to be an effective Food Justice Advocate.
Tiffany was able to make a connection with colleagues from organizations in Boston, MA and Camden, NJ who work in similar urban environments to her target neighborhoods in Central West Baltimore. The group’s meaningful discussions led them to “share funding resources and engagement strategies. The common thread between our organizations was the need to engage and empower residents, immediately and long term.”
“There are so many agencies around the country that are trying to strengthen communities and increase resident involvement, whether in whole communities or housing districts. The main take away for me was to have an effective communication platform. No Boundaries is not a service delivery organization like many of the participants at NTI; we are an advocacy group. It is crucial for our organization to clearly disseminate our messages and work, not only to sustain ourselves but also to grow.”
Taking the time to refocus on our organizations’ missions and realign our unique roles in furthering that mission, enables us to more effectively work towards the collective vision of creating a stronger, healthier #onebaltimore.