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Driving Neighborhood Change via "Building Leaders, Building Communities"

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

A new resident leadership workshop series hosted by Roosevelt Park community organizations explores what it means to contribute positive change to the neighborhood
The BLBC Leadership Team poses in front of a statue in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids

The BLBC Leadership Team poses in front of a statue in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids

Get Involved

Building Leaders, Building Communities is designed and funded by NeighborWorks America and administered by Dwelling Place, Habitat for Humanity, and the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association. The 8-week program is now open for enrollment for residents of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. For those interested in this free leadership opportunity, sign up here! Or, for questions, contact Ivette Bucio at [email protected] or call 616.243.2489

“We need leaders everywhere; residents are positioned to make the decisions that impact their lives,” shares Jeremy DeRoo, a longtime student of resident leadership. This month, several Roosevelt Park neighborhood leaders are partnering up to launch Building Leaders, Building Communities (BLBC), a resident leadership experience designed to connect neighbors by tackling neighborhood issues. The 8-week program guides a group of residents through the process of neighborhood change with interactive workshops and nationally renowned community organizing strategies. “It means empowering people of the neighborhood either as a community or individually to become leaders, being comfortable using their voice,” shares Ivette Bucio, a BLBC organizer from the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.  

For many residents, community organizing comes as naturally as any lifelong practice. “Community involvement reminds me of when I was a kid where everyone was on the same page investing in how the community was perceived” shares Rashika Lee, another member of the BLBC leadership team. Lee emphasizes the backdrop of neighborhood identity and interconnectedness that she lived through, adding, “the individuals in the neighborhood became a characteristic of that environment. Your public persona was the neighborhood that you lived in.” DeRoo, who is Dwelling Place’s new CEO, expands on this idea. “Nobody is an island; everybody is connected. We must pay attention to the people’s connection.”  

The BLBC approach emphasizes existing connections between neighbors with a thought experiment called the Head, Heart, and the Hand. Bucio, whose work with the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association involves a lot of this kind of connecting, explains, “I think that people generally do not really go in-depth to think about what skills they bring to the table. So we ask, with the Head, What do you like to learn about? Then the Heart asks, What you are enthusiastic about, what allows you to connect with those that have the same passion or discover new passions? And finally, your Hand: What are you good at? How can these skills help you in your future for projects you want to bring in? Are you good at creating art? Are you good at building things?” Bucio thinks this model will allow others to realize their own potential. She seems to see herself in this model, too, saying, “Translating documents, communicating with police officers, my job is the work of neighborhood problem solving. For me I feel a kind of responsibility, when I see the issue of language barriers especially, to help, asking ‘what would you like me to do?’ Forming friendships, forging great ideas, building confidence, and encouraging others to use their voice.” 

The need for resident leadership programming is ever-increasing as development surges in Grand Rapids. “As property values keep going up, housing prices keep going up. We cannot stop it, and as values go up this changes neighborhoods” explains DeRoo. “Community involvement is residents directing what is happening in the neighborhood. Resident leadership is about people coming together to make a change, and to manage the changes happening in their neighborhood.”  

But neighborhood issues take many different forms. For Rashika Lee, it comes down to safety. “Children need to be able to play outside safely,” she says. “I envision myself really making a difference in making the neighborhood safe.”  

The diversity of issues that residents bring to the table in the change-making process can be a big part of the work, observes DeRoo. “One of the big problems of problem solving is identifying the right problem to be solved.” But this shouldn’t deter groups from making efforts towards positive change. He adds, “Constantly celebrating differences does not solve the problem but develops a kind of cohesiveness, a dance that evolves the problem to another point or shared perspective. Good resident involvement brings about an evolvement.”

If you are a resident of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood and would like to get involved in the Building Leaders, Building Communities experience, contact Ivette Bucio at [email protected]  or call 616.243.2489

Dwelling Place is an affordable housing provider and community development corporation serving West Michigan from its Heartside Neighborhood headquarters. Dwelling Place Rapidian content is powered by staff and volunteers. Special thanks to AmeriCorps VISTA Rasheedah Gillespie-Muhammad and Volunteer Coordinator Brian Molhoek for thier contributions to this piece.

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