Practical and simple is what I thought about when I read this article about a project that has recently been launched by the City of Manassas, Virginia in conjunction with George Mason University and five neighborhood groups. The City sponsored Neighborhood Services Conference drew about 200 people last November. People came and enjoyed the day. But they wanted more.
Lo and behold, they wanted a chance to go deeper and think about what to do next. That's where George Mason University came in with $1,000 to support training for facilitators for a study circles process (see Everyday Democracy, the national resource on this powerful dialogue-to-change process). The University had used the study circles process on campus to facilitate work on immigration, and brought their experience to the neighborhood table. Study circles in two neighborhoods are just wrapping up their six-week sessions, and another set of study circles in three neighborhoods will begin shortly. How simple (and smart). The City sponsors a neighborhood conference. People come and want more. The University is there to partner with the city and the neighborhood groups on the next step.
A neighborhood resident who participated in the first set said
I've already met four or five people who I think are going to be good friends. I've also realized I'm not alone in wanting to do something for the community. Everyone wants to; it's just a matter of reaching out to them through something like this.That's powerful, isn't it? And the result of George Mason University thinking big about its small grant.
It's also pretty basic. Not expensive, complicated, over-intellectualized or over-planned. Facilitators, space, and the support that people need to make good on good intentions to move more assertively into their active citizen role. The type of support that is supportive and respectful, not intrusive or directive. Simple yet powerful. Way to go.
Now what I'd like to see is who is going to step up to the plate with some small grants to help remove any barriers that might be there as people begin working on the good ideas that are sure to develop in this process. Those ideas that go with a "we begin with residents" way of working. Shouldn't be so hard - even in this crazy economy - right?