Naida Burgos wanted to work on behalf of her community in Eastern North Philadelphia. She got her start as a Community Connector for the Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) -- a health, human services, community, and economic development non-profit organization. Connectors go door-to-door to speak with residents and give them valuable information about resources, local services from APM and other organizations, and collect information from residents through outreach and surveys to learn about their needs and values.
Many of APM’s constituents either lack the literacy or access to computers needed to research answers and find services on their own. As a Connector, Nadia learned what it took to be effective as a trusted source of information on available programs for housing, job training, education and much more. In her words:
Being seen as a trusted connector to information and services starts with listening.
When Naida first started as a Connector she realized that her own knowledge of residents’ needs was limited. So she made it her goal to learn from neighbors about their individual concerns and interests, whether it be the need for job training, lack of daycare options, or the safety of their street. To get to these answers, she started by asking questions of the residents and listening, rather than talking. For Naida, the two most important questions she asked residents were:
An early learning lesson for Naida was to be respectful of residents when they decline an offer for info or services, and politely move on to the next house. She took the responses she did get from residents and asked her co-workers at APM what other programs were out there to help meet these needs.
Something else Naida learned as a Connector is that neighbors don’t always have to be at a meeting in order to have their opinions heard.
For example, a charrette was being hosted in Center City to generate redevelopment ideas for a vacant lot in an APM neighborhood. Naida recognized it was difficult for neighbors to attend something far from their neighborhood and quickly put together a short survey about the reuse of the vacant lot. Going door to door, she collected comments and votes for different options from residents living near the vacant lot, and submitted the survey results to the charette organizers.
Naida now works as a Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC) Coordinator at APM. In this role, she creates and runs programs for the neighborhoods APM serves.
It's important for community organizations to be creative to get important information to residents
A successful approach has been to turn APM’s quarterly informational meetings into fiestas with arts and crafts activities and awards for volunteers. These events attract people with activities, but then get vital information and services to them once they're there.
Temple University has sponsored such events and brought in medical students to provide health clinics for residents. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society sponsors events as well, providing activities such as flower arrangement and wreath-making workshops.
A true highlight for Naida was giving out awards at one of these events to neighborhood volunteers who would otherwise not get recognized for their efforts. Recent recipients include a 10-year old boy who tends a community garden plot on behalf of his whole family or an 80-year old woman who regularly sweeps up her block.
Lastly, Naida and her colleagues at APM track all their results! This means keeping records of sign-in sheets, meeting attendance, services provided, flyers handed out, and taking photos at all her events.
As Naida puts it: "Tracking results and personal stories is what funders want to see more and more. Doing something small and doing it well and building upon that relationship [with a funding partner] helps to secure more funds with each new ask."
Get to know your neighbors and earn their trust Naida became a trusted figure in the community, but it took time and repeat visits to residents
When going door to door, be respectful of folks who aren't interested
Ask questions before acting: Listen to your neighbors’ interests and concerns first.
If residents cannot attend a meeting outside the neighborhood, use a survey to record and present their opinions. Naida collected neighbors' opinions on a project and brought them to a meeting downtown that many neighbors couldn't attend.
Give people more than one reason to come to a community meeting: health screenings, home repair workshops, invite elected officials, etc.
Numbers matter: track your impact by people served, dollars raised, meetings held, etc. APM uses sign-in sheets, takes photos, etc. at every event!
Toot your own horn: let funders and partners know your neighborhood success stories.
To become a resource of community information, ask questions and do your research.
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