Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grasp the Opportunity

Posted by: Julie Zando-Dennis

Sometimes only a change of viewpoint is needed to convert a tiresome duty into an interesting opportunity.”

The new program director of Easton’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, Esther Guzman, has an opportunity to build upon the achievements of former program director Gary Bertsch, and to forge her own leadership style and agenda.

I thought it would be a good idea for residents to use this blog space to let Esther know what they think of WWNP programs, how they can be improved, or in some cases, jettisoned, and what new initiatives might be pursued.

To begin, I’ll say that Gary Bertsch made many contributions to the West Ward, not least of which was a friendly and open style. I like Gary very much, so when posting your constructive criticisms or suggestions, please be respectful of the enormous time and devotion Gary gave to our community.

My criticism is that the four subcommittees that address neighborhood issues --Neighborhood Physical Quality, Community and Economic Opportunity, Natural Resources, and Human Resources and Public Safety – have been used inappropriately as recruitment tools. I am a member of the Community and Economic Opportunity committee, and every time I go to a meeting, there are new people at the meetings because the committees are used less to get business done than to recruit new people to get involved. I've been a member of my committee for over a year, and never have I been handed a list of committee members. I have no idea who constitutes the committee.

Recruiting support and new talent is essential for any community organization, but not by opening committee meetings to anyone who cares to drop by. Doing so destroys the continuity that a committee needs to get serious work done. How else can one address “old business” when new faces are constantly appearing? Valuable time is spent getting these new “recruits” up to speed, and then these same people may never show up again.

I understand that under consideration is a plan to invite the general public to the committee meetings. A mistake. Instead, I recommend that the committees be disbanded and reformed, with set terms for members. These terms could be renewable, with those making positive contributions renewed, while those making no or negative "contributions" not renewed. This way the committees would be focused and efficient, would encourage making alliances, and would facilitate both initiation and completion of projects.

What program would you advise Esther to advance or change?


peterkc said...

You make some good points about committees and the need for continuity. I would suggest that meetings be open to the public, though -- but that the committee should set an agenda a few days before the meeting and then stick to it. [I think that if visitors see you the committees actually getting something done, they are much more likely to consider real involvement.]

As you rethink the committees, it might be worth looking at the structure too. [Neighborhood Physical Quality, Community & Economic Opportunity, Natural Resources, and Human Resources & Public Safety]

Is this the best breakdown for the issues the WW faces today? [Why are human resources and public safety in the same committee? Where is neighborhood quality covered?]


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

See no reason why the public can't come to the meetings to observe and become informed, but to foster productivity, the constitution of the committees should be fixed (for a set term).

Cathy said...

The reason for having an open invitation to committees is probably due to the constant suspicion that is leveled against funded initiatives in the West Ward. By being able to say - "join a committee" the funded initiative is able to push back on that suspicion by saying if you have an issue show up and help. Also there has been a lack of committed long term volunteers. By keeping the committees open and by actively recruiting, the managers can offer a respectable number of attendees for their reporting.

But I like your point Julie. How can serious work get done unless people are given real responsibility? Also I have seen people show up just to nix something and then not show up for another year - yet their names stay on the roster. That doesnt seem fair to those who in the meantime have been putting in time considering and developing a particular project.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

True that it is hard for non-profits to find committed long term volunteers. Still, this isn't rocket science -- you can't by definition have a "committee" if the membership keeps shifting.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

I agree with all of what has been said.I for one,sometime the fool,have attended meetings after meetings only to come away shaking my head.I understand the task of becoming the Leader of the WWNP. The problem is there is not enough out reach being done.I know Laura does a great job with the Mosaic and the West Word is a great accomplishment.But none of my neighbors know much at all about this,I get asked every day what is going on in Centennial Park and I have no clue.I have neighbors with code issues that I just tell call City Hall.Most of the committees,I have been at are the same faces or so few people that nothing gets accomplished but a gripe session.So if I were Queen,for a day {LOL} I would have an open meeting at a Church maybe and look at Committee's and start agendas and then simple action items.Sometimes small results lay way to a sort of snow balling to big results,provided people become involved.I live on the 1100 block of Ferry and most people are either Mexican and other ethnic diversity and don't understand or the elderly who just don't leave their homes.Some parents won't let their children play outside while others leave them out late,later than I would when my children were younger.There are slumlords abound but nothing is being done. I love the street sweeping but when they were putting up the signs some people didn't know about the street sweeping. My point is that there is definite need for social services to make themselves known and the quality of life issues need to be addressed so that there is a genuine desire to live in the West Ward not to want to get out.And I see the older teenagers just walking around and around aimlessly,too young to hang in bars,thank heavens,but driving or walking aimlessly trying to find something to do! I am always a positive person but we have some real issues that are quality of life issues.Rentals are sky high if you want to live in a decent place.Jobs,if you have one,be grateful! And I am grateful for the police presence and hope for the best. Thank you for listening to my rambling thoughts and let's all see the glass as half full.
peace to all,sandy

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

You bring up a good point about outreach. The WWNP might consider hiring a part-time publicist. Non-profits often view such positions as a luxury they can't afford, but if a young, energetic person who needs work experience is hired, it might be affordable, and the benefits would far outweigh the costs. A publicist could promote WWNP programs through print media like flyers and posters, radio, and the internet.

Dr. Bonnie said...

Although I do not live in the West Ward, I have been very active in my past living and working in a similar neighborhood in Central New York. I worked with a similar group as WWNP to get a Nuisance Abatement Law passed to address drug houses and other absentee landlord issues. We took over a park and developed an urban land trust for low-income housing. Now as many of you know, I am the director of the Landis Center at Lafayette and am involved in organizing students to learn about and act on what it means to be a citizen.

I would like to suggest that we give ideas to Esther as to what we can do for her. I have witnessed many people putting in endless hours to make a difference in the West Ward and yet as Sandy writes many of the residents don't know what is going on. What can we do to change this?

It seems that there are conversations within the same circle(s) of people. How do we widen the circle?

noel jones said...

Peter--in answer to your questions:

"Where is neighborhood quality covered?"

The Neighborhood Physical Quality committee focuses on this.

"Why are human resources and public safety in the same committee?"

I have no idea--I have wondered the same thing myself. Human Resources and Public Safety would seem like two completely different topics. And I've always been puzzled by the title "Human Resources" with regard to our neighborhood--it sounds like a committee that would focus on helping people get jobs--but that could also fall under Economic Opportunity. Maybe "Family Resources" would a broader topic that could include issues for youth and adults--education, housing assistance, etc...

Bonnie--you have hit on what I think is the most important question to successful community engagement in the West Ward--how to widen the circle. The progressives in the neighborhood pretty much all know each other and all commit to the community in various ways. I'm not sure what the magic answer is to engaging more neighbors, but I do feel strongly that in a neighborhood where one in three people have not finished high school, that public education is a part of any successful plan.

I'm excited that Esther is fluent in Spanish, and hope that the WWNP will be able to reach out and engage the almost 20% of Spanish-speaking residents that we have here...

Cathy said...

Human Resources does sound like a department in a corporation but as a member of this committee since its inception I would say its about resources for humans - such as health, education, recreation, etc. Why safety - I dont know. It got attached to this committee after the committee was already formed. One safety project we did was a bike rodeo about a month ago. Yet we have no police or codes persons attending regularly. My opinion is that Weed and Seed with its stronger link to the police department can do a better job with a safety committee. The fact that WWNP tries to do it and Weed and Seed tries to do it means that a volunteer like myself has to do double meeting time if I have a concern or an issue to bring forward. That doesn't really work for me as volunteer. Generally WWNP and Weed and Seed should coordinate and collaborate better to make best use of volunteers time.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

When the original Weed & Seed grant was written the through the "Communities that Care" initiative way back when,It had a clearer definition of Committees.Each Com. had a Leader and a Secretary who took minutes,agenda items were created and followed through and reported on thus decreasing overlap and working smarter not harder.All the Com. reported to a group of folks,all the not for profits,churches and if WWNP were the catalyst that did the out reach to get folks into a process the it seems to me that attendance to a meeting would be the one you,yourself were committed to.This group perhaps headed by Ester and driven by residents that outreach had recruited could address what they felt was the most important quality of life issues,form new relevant committees and then start a process.And thank you for all the input,I see the Landis Center if possible a big part of this.Well just some ideas and food for though thanks for listening! peace sandy

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the West Ward, the 1200 block of Spring Garden. The entire neighborhood was families with children, about the same as it is today. The difference between then and now is that the families back then cared about their neighborhood and their homes. We all were poor but had pride in our homes and in our neighborhood. Everyone here has very good intentions and very good ideas. But, until you get the people to care, all the good intentions and ideas are a waste of time. Just looking at my old neighborhood now makes me very sad. The poor condition of the homes. Weeds in the gutter and the sidewalks. People just standing around at all hours of the day and night, drinking, talking loudly, and doing who knows what. There are too many rentals, too many people that just don't care.

peterkc said...

Like Bonnie, I don't live in the community, but I think Julie makes a very important point about the need to have someone who focuses on outreach. Yes, of course everyone there does outreach, but it's not always their first priority.

I was involved with a major community revitalization initiative in NJ, and one of the first things they did was hire community workers -- who were people from the community who needed good jobs -- and the organization then provided initial and ongoing training. This approach solved two problems at the same time.

On the other hand, I think Esther already understands this, which is an advantage of having someone who has experience organizing in the community.


Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Following up on outreach . . . I learned as a media arts programmer that outreach is 40% of any successful program.

That means that 40% of the program should be devoted to outreach (not 40% of the budget, although well designed outreach materials go a long way).

Outreach is a never ending effort, like housekeeping. It is essential to broaden your reach. Moreover, no matter how well you have cultivated a core audience, you still can't depend on that core's support without reaching out to them over and over again.

Outreach is a pain, especially for over-taxed non-profit employees. But it must be done, or delegated. Otherwise, all the grant money in the world won't go to good use.

Case in point - the WWNP's weatherization grants. I understand that there are 100 grants to be given out (free money!!!), but only a handful of people have applied. If you can't give out free money, there is a problem. Not only are programming objectives compromised, but also future fundraising efforts are seriously damaged because credibility is lost. There is nothing a funder hates more than knowing that its money was not put to its intended use. It's "the kiss of death" that will motivate funders to look elsewhere for a place to put their funds.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the urban ecology project. It seems to be just about Lafayette projects now. They do a project on rain barrels - great for the students - but is the community grateful? Do they attend? No. Why? Because we already do rain barrels here. But instead of giving a grant to the community - to meet with neighbors and teach each other and buy rain barrels - the money goes to pay Lafayette to instruct its students in a lab on rain barrels. Now that this lab has come and gone, in the end, what was the value to the community?

Anonymous said...

It may be a situation where people want to provide you with a free service and you may want that service but to get it you must relinguish control of your property. An owner is liable whether work is done or not or is shoddy or incomplete or even dangerous. Unless there is a contract specifying expectations that's not a good deal even if its free. Does WWNP contract with applicants for the work to be done?

Anonymous said...

And then there is the issue of WWNP having steadily employed a contractor openly hostile to, among other things, the spanish language being spoken by anyone anywhere in Easton.

Anonymous said...

Yeah anon 8:48. I don't get the urban ecology thing. Whats it supposed to do? Do see how its helping my neighborhood. A waste of money as far as I can tell.