When working in the community, I often hear topics referred to as “The Elephant in the Room.” From the community’s perspective, issues that are historically a problem are not addressed completely. Proper funding for grassroots entities and more political transparency of funding distribution based on community need are two important issues that are often referenced.
I facilitated a United Way Mind Fest Community Conversation, a forum for community members to set goals on how to reach their aspirations for the neighborhood, at The Harvard Square Center. In the Mind Fest Community Conversation, I asked questions originated from the The Harwood Institute. This model has proven effective in several other cities such as Bakersfield, California and Battle Creek, Michigan. I asked a range of open-ended questions such as how the participants can help the community look and feel better and what is stopping progress in their neighborhood.
The Harvard Square Center forum provided direct insight into the mindset of community members. A combination of adults from the Lee-Harvard and Mt. Pleasant communities attended, along with several officers from the Cleveland Police Department 4th district.
The Mind Fest environment was positive, with dialogue that led to more questions among the attendees. As I facilitated the event, I noticed how the police officers took notes. Community members were honest about how they felt. Some of the needs discussed:
- More youth engagement (education-based)
- Homeowner property improvement support
- Urban farming (business support)
Some of the key concerns were:
- Predatory real estate companies
- Lack of awareness of programs
- Business/bank transparency
This conversation had similar feedback and concerns expressed from the Hough area and the Woodhill-Buckeye area. Concentric circles and common goals are starting to form among Cleveland community neighborhoods.
Community members consistently request that they have increased frequent access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They state that this is essentially important for the health of the community. Although there is a grocery store in the area, community members would like to see a healthy initiative at the broader community level. This brought to my attention the need for increased awareness and direct marketing of existing services/programs offered in the communities. For example, The Harvard Square Center offers a Food Bank pantry with fresh produce every second Tuesday of each month. Community members expressed they want more access to this in their community.
United Way of Greater Cleveland utilizes Community Conversations to bring outside voices in, and advocate with them toward their goals. Using an intergenerational approach has been very helpful with surfacing all the needs of the community.
If you are interested engaging in this work by becoming a community conversation notetaker, please click here.
To learn more about Community Conversations click here.