Penas for the Common Good


Written by Alicia Lueras Maldonado

On Friday, May 2nd, over 25 nonprofit service providers, advocates and community organizers joined together in what was the first of a series of “peñas” to honor and celebrate our work, build relationships and have a deeper dialogue about the “common good.”

The idea of “peñas” came out of a Building Movement Project convening that took place in March at the SouthWest Organizing Project. Peñas are gatherings of musicians, artists and community folks that originated in Spain and Latin America. They also have strong roots in the social justice and grassroots movements in those countries. We are excited to host this series of peñas and create a space for nonprofits and community members to come together.

We kicked off our first Peña for the Common Good at the offices of Albuquerque Healthcare for the Homeless and we were honored to have staff, volunteers and community members share their personal stories of homelessness, transition, direct service and how they do the work they do.

For me, and I suspect many of the participants, it was good to hear from the community constituents and how they have moved forward in their transition from homelessness to being leaders within the organization, serving on the board, working as program directors and providing mentorship to their peers. Their sharing grounded our dialogue in the work and the real-life experiences of community members. Jenny Metzler, the Executive Director, shared with us the “values-based” approach that guides their work and decision-making process. Every piece of work they do has to align with their values and serve their mission and vision as an organization. This was powerful to hear and helped all of us to reflect on our decision-making processes and learn from one another.

One participant shared that after hearing the presentations by the members of Healthcare for the Homeless, she realized that she had held a stereotype about homeless people. She said that when she was on welfare with two young children she knew that is was a phase she was going through that she would transition out of, but she never realized that homeless people are also in a transition. It is not a permanent state. The presentations by those formerly homeless members of Healthcare for the Homeless, who are now leaders of the organization opened her eyes to this and expanded her way of thinking.

In addition to the great conversation and learning, we also incorporated creative writing into the peña, to connect to the tradition of these gatherings being a place for cultural sharing. Here is one of the many poems created from the common good writing exercise.

El bien comun significa promover la igualdad, el respeto y la libertad para todos las personas sin excepción; pero es muy importante aprender y entender lo que esto contiene…libertad, educación, empleo, salud y respeto a las ideas y criterios de otros.

The Common Good is to promote equality, respect and freedom for all people without exception, but it is very important to learn and understand what this means…freedom, education, employment, health, respect for the ideas and opinions of others.

–Norma Baca, Encuentro

As we look ahead to BMP’s work in New Mexico we are grateful for the many community members and nonprofits who have embraced the peña process and continue to push the dialogue forward. The conversation was rich and raised questions about how we all contribute to the common good and how we envision the common good in our communities and beyond. What are the things that we can do in our work and daily lives that contributes to the common good? How do we engage the community at a deeper level? What is the cultural context and who is defining or re-defining the common good? Thos are just a few of the questions raised by the participants and good food for thought as we move forward.

This was also a wonderful opportunity to  learn more about Healthcare for the Homeless and how their work helps to shape the common good in New Mexico. Special thanks for Jenny Metzler and her team for hosting us!

We plan to gather in June for our next Peña for the Common Good and are excited for the work ahead.

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