October 20, 2011

Damon and Clint: Asset Based Community Development

Real change can happen when we make the shift from meeting needs to recognizing and accepting gifts.

I’d like to share a story I heard last week during a workshop on Asset Based Community Development at the Everyone, Everywhere conference

Damon is a minister serving a congregation in the poorest section of a Midwestern city. People living in this part of the city receive lots of services: assistance with food, clothing, medical care, housing, etc. Yet, after years of service delivery, no real change has occurred in this community.

Damon’s first encounter with Clint was when Clint approached him in front of the church and asked for money. Damon refused, and invited Clint to come to church. This scenario repeated itself over time, with Clint asking for a handout, Damon refusing and instead inviting Clint to church. Each time Clint refused, sharing that he was an alcoholic.

One day the scenario changed. Damon had mentioned Clint to a colleague and learned that Clint was a tuckpointer – perhaps one of the best in the city.

[Tuckpointing is a way of using two contrasting colors of mortar in brickwork, one color matching the bricks themselves, to give an artificial impression that very fine joints have been made. Source: Wikipedia]

The next time Clint and Damon met, Damon asked for Clint’s help. Turns out that Damon’s church and parish hall were made of brick and in need of repair. The result? Damon hired Clint to do the work. Damon didn’t bring it to the vestry, didn’t ask for competitive bids, or ask for references. He just acted.

The next Sunday, Damon was surprised to see Clint in church. While Clint the alcoholic couldn’t or wouldn’t cross the threshold, Clint the tuck pointer walked through the door, bringing Clint the alcoholic with him. Today, Clint the tuckpointer continues to come to church and participates in the life of the parish.

What changed?

Damon’s recognition of Clint as a person with gifts to share instead of someone needing service changed everything. Damon acknowledged and affirmed Clint’s giftedness and then activated it by hiring Clint to do needed work on the church buildings.

Using a glass filled half way with water, Damon asks, “Is this glass half empty or half full? When we focus on the empty space – what’s missing – we focus on problems and needs and add more water to fill the gap. What if instead, we focus on the water – the gifts and skills that are there – and allow them to expand and grow?”

Or, as Damon put it: “Your need gets you serviced, a case worker. Your gift brings you community. Everyone has a need: the need to be needed. Acknowledging, affirming, and activating the giftedness of every person moves you from needs based thinking to asset based community development.”

How can we, like God and Jesus, learn to ask, “what is in your hand?” when faced with great need? How do we make the shift to givers and givers, to asset based community development?

Here are some ways to get started:

1.  Begin by thinking in terms of assets or gifts rather than needs. For example, when thinking about working in a neighborhood, try identifying the assets in that community (businesses, schools, churches, parks, libraries, the gifts of the people living there) instead of the challenges (high unemployment, broken families, crime, homelessness, high drop out rate, etc.)

2.  Talk with people in the neighborhood and ask them about their skills and gifts. What can they:

Do with their hands.

Do with their brain.

Do with their heart.

3.  Use this information to develop opportunities where everyone has the opportunity to share their gifts. Challenge the barriers we create to limit participation (what would it take to get our ‘church people’ to scoot over and share the preparation and cooking of a meal with the people we are feeding?).

4. Create a list of all the important relationships in your neighborhood or community. Who are the people you know you can go to, to get something done?

Want to learn more? Watch thevideo from the ABCD 101 workshop presented by Damon Lynch III, senior pastor of the New Prospect Baptist Church in the Over-the-Rhine area in Cincinnati.  Scroll down through the video content until you reach Asset Based Community Development.