Category Archives: community development

Understanding “Quality of Life”

After seeing Cornelia Butler Flora present at a Minnesota Rural Summit a number of years ago, I decided to look into her work in more detail. One of the things I found was a piece that she had written as Director of The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. It was titled, “Quality of Life Versus Standard of Living,” and it presented a couple of ideas that I have found invaluable over the years when framing civic engagement conversations and strategies.

The first is that people often confuse these very different concepts: standard of living, and quality of life. Standard of living is essentially determined by how much stuff you can afford to buy. Quality of life, on the other hand, is sometimes more difficult to quantify or even articulate very easily.

My other big take away from the article was that quality of life, in all of its complexity can be measured both qualitatively and quantitatively. This is important to know because if money doesn’t buy happiness (or a high quality of life), then we should know how we might implement strategies to improve quality of life in the community and measure the impact of our actions.

Some of Flora’s more recent work has focused on the development of the Community Capitals framework, which facilitates planning for and measuring community or organizational change. Cultural capital, human capital, social capital, political capital, financial capital and built capital work together to sustain healthy ecosystems, economic security, and social well-being.  Our understanding of how these capitals inform and interact with one another is important if we are interested in holistic approaches to contributing to positive community change.

We are pleased to be co-hosting a webinar featuring Dr. Flora on Tuesday, September 27, titled, “Using the Community Capitals Framework to Understand and Measure Community Impact.”  We hope you will join us and begin to look at new ways to understand how your partnerships can contribute in meaningful ways to healthy, vibrant communities.

John Hamerlinck

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Don’t let larger class sizes be an excuse for avoiding community engagement

By John Hamerlinck

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Big Classes Encourage Experiments in Teaching” by David Glenn, shed some light on the fact that strained budgets are leading to larger class sizes at many colleges and universities. I have written previously that we need to look at economically-driven institutional change in terms of the opportunities they present. This phenomenon is a good example.

There couldn’t be a better time to expand our notions of what “service,” and “service-learning” might entail. If you previously had 20 students volunteering at – let’s say – a food shelf; and now you suddenly have 30 students in that class – why not expand your options beyond either sending 30 students to the food shelf or giving up altogether because logistically, 30 is just too much extra work.

What if 15 students did the food shelf service and 15 students worked on strategies to help food shelf users find employment. What if all the students worked on a sustainability plan for the employment piece, so that the effort could be part of a long-term commitment by multiple faculty, staff and students. What other ways can we come up with to mobilize even more educated people to solve pressing societal issues?

Designing Community Pride

By Maria Ortiz

Minnesota Campus Compact supported a collaboration between the nonprofit Juxtaposition Arts, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Design Institute, dedicated to the revitalization of Northeast Minneapolis. Their work began with the West Broadway Gateway Project. This project created murals, sculptures, seating and other people-centered amenities meant to transform the community into a welcoming and aesthetically attractive commercial avenue. The partners and community members focused on the environment, geographical prospective, ownership, zoning issues and public art. All aspects of the project were modeled after other successful projects around the United States.

As the project developed so did its support, scope and goals, eventually being renamed Remix: Creating Place for People on West Broadway. The project completed the installation of a sculpture garden at the West Broadway East Gateway Area. Where artists, architects, landscape professionals and university students and faculty designed and fabricated public art and landscaping elements in a former parking lot. Neighborhood youth and artists also created light post street banners with images of their artwork that were hung along the five block West Broadway commercial district.

The Remix: Creating Place for People on West Broadway project is the kind of project that advocates for community-based place making. The activities created reasons for people to visit to particular places and raised awareness and interest in those places. This project not only brought beauty, but also brought people together in building this place, their community. MORE

Every Child Deserves a Playground

By John Hamerlinck

In 2001, St. Cloud State University received a grant from the Minnesota Campus Compact administered Community Service-Learning & Campus-Community Collaboration Initiatives program. That initial investment of $14,000 has leveraged many times that amount in contributions. It has also provided an invaluable community asset and valuable educational experiences for hundreds of St. Cloud State University students. For more information see the SCSU Web site and this story on the Kaboom! site.

Want to change the world? Be an organizer or support organizers.

By John Hamerlinck

A few years ago Aaron Schutz, who teaches community organizing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote an interesting blog post on “cutting an issue.”  Schutz wrote, “The world is full of what organizers call “problems,” aspects of the world we don’t like—e.g., world hunger, or educational achievement. Problems, however, are too big and vague to grapple with in any coherent manner. In fact, just thinking about them can be disempowering.”organize

Academics love the 20,000 foot view of the problem. It compliments an “expert” model of community engagement as opposed to the crucial, but messier work of organizing. The trouble is that both knowledge and organizing are necessary to create change in communities.

Expertise-driven “programs” too often focus on addressing temporary solutions to issues one person at a time. Community organizing seeks to engage large numbers of people to find collective solutions. It changes the balance of power by creating previously undiscovered power bases.

Partnerships between institutions (like a college and a social service agency) can only produce goods or services. That is what institutions do. Institutions are not so good at mobilizing people who are passionate about an issue to come to a consensus to actively change something. Individuals associated with institutions might be part of organizing efforts. More often than not, however, they are participating on their own time.

If higher education institutions cannot commit to organizing for community change, perhaps we might figure out ways that campuses could support community organizers with the same gusto that they add capacity to other types of traditional client-serving, program-driven nonprofit organizations. This might mean embracing radical notions like a campus-community partnership where the community partner is not a nonprofit organization, but rather, an informal group of passionate and motivated citizens.

If your campus has any effective partnerships with informal associations please share them. If you have ideas on how colleges and universities can support community organizing in general please share those as well.

Jane Addams’ Relevance in the 21st Century

by Paul C. Pribbenow

The following are excerpts from, “Jane Addams in China [Or, What does a long-ago American woman have to do with international social welfare in the 21st century?],” a paper by Paul C. Pribbenow, President of Augsburg College and Minnesota Campus Compact board chair, delivered to a conference on International Social Welfare East and West in Zhuhai, China on July 2, 2009.

The life and work of Jane Addams is inextricably bound up with the settlement house commitments to living with and meeting the needs of neighbors, and then linking those commitments to broader social policy and practice initiatives.  I want to contend that both Addams’ civic biography and the principles of her work at Hull-House are more relevant than ever to the social welfare needs of the world in the 21st century.  And they are relevant because they are grounded in the real, everyday lives of the neighbors whose needs are the primary object of social welfare systems, policies and practices.  I’m convinced that we’ve left the work of meeting the needs of vulnerable strangers to a system that has lost its “soul.”  I want to argue, along with Michael Ignatieff, that we need a new vision for imagining how we meet the needs of strangers – no matter where we find them – and that this vision must address the fundamental issue of what responsibility we have for each other in the world.1

Four key questions  offer a framework for exploring the relevance of Jane Addams for 21st century social welfare in both the East and the West: (a)  What is the “social ethic” that grounds your work with neighbors, i.e., what is the normative statement of what we owe each other and why? (b) How do you engage your neighbors to know who they are, to listen to what they need, and to base a response to their needs on this genuine engagement? (c) What are the organizational and systemic structures that allow us to be pragmatic – nimble, innovative, concrete – in our responses, honoring the needs of our neighbors rather than our own needs to build agencies or pursue the comfortable work? And, (d) In what ways does our social welfare work recognize that local and global are inextricably bound together – that we learn in our rich and immediate context lessons that are relevant for neighbors around the world?

This commitment to genuine engagement with neighbors is the basis upon which the settlement house went about its work, and suggests a stance that is at once humble – i.e., admits our own biases and privileges – and respectful – i.e., authentically open to the perspectives and experiences of others.  Humility and respect set the foundation for transforming human relations – in neighborhoods and around the globe.

In the community around our college in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA), our neighbors are African, from Somalia and Ethiopia.  As immigrants, they are just like the Greeks and Italians and Bohemians that surrounded Hull-House in Chicago in the 1890s – looking for a better life in a new land, but also wanting to maintain their cultural practices and traditions in this alien context.  Our college – like our settlement brothers and sisters – is involved daily in engaging our neighbors as they worship, celebrate cultural traditions and holidays, and seek to maintain ties to their home countries.  At the same time, we are engaging those same neighbors in the civic work of keeping our neighborhood safe, participating in the political process, and supporting economic development.  Jane Addams and the settlement house movement offer us all a way to honor this intersection of the local and the global in the 21st century.

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1 Ignatieff, Michael. The Needs of Strangers. New York: Picador USA, 2001. Originally published in 1984.