August 1 marked my second year at my job at Community Housing Initiatives, helping lead the Viva East Bank! initiative. It has been a major learning curve as I work to understand what makes a vibrant, healthy neighborhood. There’s never “an answer,” which means there’s a lot of exploration, conversations, testing and retesting, brainstorming and action.
What I do is complex. Most people are like oh….okay (puzzled face emoji). I used to be very unsure how to describe what I do professionally. I’m a community builder. I help develop communities based on who lives there and what the needs of residents are by partnering with dozens of stakeholders in Des Moines. I help facilitate meetings, I meet with neighborhood associations to talk about grant funding opportunities, I bring business owners together to talk about enhancing their corridor, I host events at middle schools, I project manage the neighborhood plans, I help find money to support programs, I write blog posts, and on and on and on. The job titles I give myself are endless. The quote below sums up the role of community developers (thanks, Amber!)…
As community developers, we don’t just focus on one thing. We have to be real estate investors and education advocates, health watchdogs and crime busters, job trainers and entrepreneurs. We have to be able to span generations, cultures and lifestyles and find ways to help everyone maintain relevance. The capacity to fuel healthy change is not built overnight. It is a long and painstaking process. – DEnise scott
The people in the three neighborhoods are incredible. They come from near and far. Some have called their neighborhood home for over 50 years and others have recently immigrated to Des Moines and are learning the ropes. I am not a part of the neighborhoods to fix people or fix the neighborhood; I get to walk alongside the principals, the residents, the business owners, the police and help make things stronger, more vibrant, safer.
As year two officially begins at CHI, I hope to keep shaking things up. We are looking at public art possibilities around the neighborhoods, enhancing youth programs for teens, building more diverse neighborhood associations and changing a lot of negative perceptions that are often associated with the east side of Des Moines. A lot of my work has been reactionary over the past two years, simply because there is so much going on all the time.
I hope my role over the next year is geared towards system-level change. What does it take to comprehensively build a vibrant neighborhood in Des Moines? Who are the players? How do we engage more residents? What model can we replicate in the 50 other existing neighborhoods? How do we fight deep-rooted, generational poverty? It takes an army. And I think we (the neighborhood resident & stakeholders) are building one. 🙂
Let me be honest and say this job can be really tiring. One step forward, two steps back. I have a lot left to learn and some patience to acquire, but my team rocks & we have a really amazing work environment. Today I am thankful.