Jul 03Community Building in Sacramento at 7th and H
This summer, Mercy Housing is piloting a new style of resident engagement called Community Connect at six communities in the Sacramento area. These monthly gatherings mark a cultural shift away from ‘town hall’ style meetings led by staff to connection-building group activities guided by resident leadership, interests, and concerns. The structure of these get-togethers is born from the collaboration of Mercy Housing and Trusted Space Partners creating community transforming gatherings in Sunnydale.
“Every person, no matter their life circumstances, has the wisdom to share and needs to feel valued by others,” says Frankie Blackburn, who is a partner at Trusted Space Partners. “Creating moments for diverse neighbors and staff to connect and exchange small favors on a regular basis unleashes new resources for the community while also increasing the health and well-being of individual community members. The habit of connection and mutual support builds new awareness and trust, both of which are critical ingredients when coming together at the community table to solve common problems.”
The Community Connect meetings have a very consistent structure, within which there is improvisation. Part of the meeting is used to facilitate small connections between residents in an effort to build a web of community. At the beginning of each gathering, residents and staff share a meal. While they finish eating, everyone gathers in a circle and shares what is “New and Good” with them. These small upbeat announcements are acknowledged by the whole group and set an aspirational tone. Following “New and Good” is an activity called “Marketplace” which is an in-person opportunity for residents to request services and offer favors with each other. For example, someone might ask for help to assemble an IKEA dresser or need a ride to the grocery store. Another person might offer to prepare meals or to do nail art. If there is a match, people exchange contact information.
The core of this gathering is a whole community discussion of resident-suggested interests. Topics are chosen while everyone sits in a circle and has an equal opportunity to share and be heard. Once chosen, smaller focus groups break off to discuss specific concerns. Conversations could include access to pet care resources in the neighborhood, activities that could be added to the social calendar, or security in the building. Within these groups, everyone has a voice. Sometimes discussions can get heated, but the goal is to hear all sides and find a constructive solution while fostering community.