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By Jo Anne McNemar, M.S., CPS II
Training and Resources Coordinator, West Virginia Prevention Resource Center
Do you develop your community, or does it develop you? The answer is “yes!”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines community as “a group of people living in the same locality” or “a group that has common interests.” Development is defined as “growth, strengthening or unfolding gradually.” Therefore community development could be viewed as a group that has a common interest and is growing and becoming strong.
The community development process can come from the top down with elected officials who make the decisions for a community or from the bottom up with the citizens who express the needs of the community. The hope is that they will meet in the middle and work collaboratively.
Collaboration is sharing information and resources to build the capacity of a community. The goal is to achieve a common purpose. A community must have the support of its members in order to grow. Everyone has abilities upon which the community can build.
As The Associates for Youth Development, Inc. in Tucson, Arizona point out in their “Theory of Participation.”
“When people have an opportunity to participate in decisions and shape strategies that vitally affect them, they will develop a sense of ownership in what they have determined and commitment to seeing that the decisions are sound and the strategies are useful, effective and carried out. This theory is basic to a democratic society.”
They also tell us that communities learn from experience and then build on that experience. Learning communities respect citizens of all ages as viable resources and involve
them as such. They create opportunities for involvement while using wisely resources they already have.
Who can develop a community? Everyday people ranging from youth to elected officials can make a positive difference. The list of those who can provide leadership also includes parents, ministers and professional community development specialists.
Who can help with this process? You are not alone in your efforts. There are resources you can access on line. There are trained professionals who can provide technical assistance. They will work side by side with you teaching and empowering you to mobilize your community. Mobilization is the process of bringing together community stakeholders in support of an initiative.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a framework to help communities build their capacity. SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework provides an interactive instrument that can be accessed at http://prevention platform.samhsa.gov. SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention sponsors this site. The user is guided in conducting a needs assessment, capacity building, strategic planning, planning implementation and outcome evaluation.
An assessment organizes the community to profile needs. Capacity building will help to improve the capabilities of the community and move them into the direction of developing a plan. Strategic planning becomes a focused effort to produce activities which can then be implemented. An evaluation will document the outcomes.
Another resource for community development is The West Virginia Prevention Resource Center (WVPRC). The WVPRC works to build the capacity of individuals, organizations and agencies to promote the well-being of their communities. The WVPRC does not provide direct service but instead provides training and technical assistance, communication and information sharing, and accountability and evaluation. More specifically, the WVPRC employs a network of Community Development Specialists who live and work throughout West Virginia. These Community Development Specialists can provide hands on technical assistance tailored to meet the needs of your community. They emphasize prevention strategies including: community mobilization, information dissemination, alternative activities, problem identification and referral, environmental and social policies, and prevention education.
Additional information about Community Development Specialists, the WVPRC, and their annual Share the Vision Prevention Conference, November 4-5, 2004 in Charleston WV is available at www.prevnet.org or by calling 304-746-2077. The WVPRC is funded with Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant funds administered by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, Office of Behavioral Health Services Division on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
Strong communities recognize the capacity of local residents. They are valued for their gifts and talents they are sharing. If people are valued by their community they become empowered. The community will then become more powerful because of the contributions its people are able to make.
You can make a difference in your community!
- - - RESOURCES - - -
*** Websites ***
Prevention Resource Center
Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services
Center for the Application
of Prevention Technology United States
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