Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld
Earlier this week, I facilitated a meeting for the Alliance for Children & Families’ 2014 New Voices Civic Engagement Fellows. This year’s fellows, who are sponsored by Alliance member organizations, were chosen for their demonstrated potential to use civic engagement strategies to strengthen families, communities, and nonprofit organizations.
The meeting this week served to kick-off the fellowship for this new class of participants, who will be tasked with executing an original civic engagement action plan and hosting a training opportunity for Alliance staff and member organizations, many of which come out of the settlement house movement and are committed to embedding civic engagement work in their everyday activities. The meeting was held at University Settlement, the first settlement house in the United States, and for part of the time we met in the original location in New York City’s Lower East Side. It was inspiring to be with this group in such a historic location, hosted by an organization that has such a deep understanding of how to meet immediate needs of communities and also change the systems that perpetuate poverty, inequality and human suffering.
One speaker from the meeting particularly hammered home the importance of integrating civic engagement practices into service provision. Irma Rodriguez from Queens Community House, an organization we’ve profiled before, talked about the model they’ve implemented to successfully embed these social change activities throughout their program areas and staff.
We’ve noticed (and advocated for) a recent increase in neighborhood service organizations reclaiming community engagement and community building as central functions for their organizations. It was exciting to be in a historic space with representatives from diverse organizations who are committed to furthering this trend.