What Does Community Development Look Like?

Community Development

Written By: Hannah W. and Christie A.

Late last year, we asked ourselves some hard questions as we clarified our models and measured our programs with our vision. As we continue to grow as an organization, we must make adjustments in each season to ensure that every area of ministry is growing and flourishing. We are continually pruning and making adjustments to keep models healthy, thriving, and helping children. Last year, this conversation started around the topic of “education.” For decades we’ve poured ourselves into some incredible models of education that had a massive impact. The world is vastly different than when we began this journey, and our focus on education no longer seems to hit our mark. We all agree that education is a vital part in helping at-risk children within communities. However, the availability and access to education is rapidly changing. The need for education is still there, but the part we are addressing feels larger than education. We needed a broader and more encompassing term for the changes we were noting. Our quest began to find a word to express this intangible concept of men and women investing in their communities to bring about change.

In some communities, this looks like pre-primary education to help unlock the trap of poverty. In other communities, it looks like mentorship programs or after-school programs. It looks like concerned citizens actively engaged in building their local communities, investing in the next generation, and making their communities a better place to live. As we began to dig into the research and noted trends, the conversation became wider; and suddenly, so many areas of outreach began to fall together. Then we found a definition from the UN that made us stop in our tracks.

UN Community Development Definition

This is the very thing we have seen play out 1,000 times over in programs all over the world. This term, “Community Development”, is you. It’s your commitment to helping at-risk children in your community and around the world. It’s the company that volunteers their staff’s time to take part in a local project. It’s the warehouse and millions of dollars of gifts-in-kind leveraged in the community to help those truly in need in a grassroots, super effective way. As the dots connected and the larger picture began forming, we all agreed. It was time to replace “Education” (in our 4 main program areas) with “Community Development.” Education is now a part of Community Development, which encompasses more children across a variety of communities.

2020 has offered us so many opportunities to lean into this new definition of Community Development; and has inspired and encouraged us in the midst of a really hard year. In moments of crisis, we get to see so many of you lean in and start asking, “What can I do? How can I help?” We also get to see you faithfully invest in helping others, even while facing uncertainty yourself. We want to share a few stories with you that are amazing. These stories epitomize community development and the incredible men and women of faith and fortitude that you are!

A few weeks into the Covid-19 pandemic, we set that huge goal of 1,000,000 meals, and everyone jumped on board to help make it happen. While talking with a donor, he began asking questions about what our areas of need were. What were the opportunities we couldn’t jump on because of current limitations? Out of it, he heard about our need for a refrigerator truck to deliver fresh produce and milk. In a bold step of faith, he said “yes!” and made the refrigerator truck happen. He has also jumped in weekly to volunteer his time and influence to make sure that food is getting to hungry families. He jumped in, generated a fantastic solution, and it’s meant hundreds of thousands of fresh produce meals go directly to families in need!

In another stunning example of this concept, we have a new friend who heard about the goal, and he was active in a Facebook group all about plants. He decided to take what he had (a bunch of plants) and do something in the virtual space he’s in, to bring about tangible good for people in need. He organized an online auction fundraiser where he and some of his friends donated exotic house plants to be auctioned off in exchange for donations to feed hungry families. Together, over one weekend, with a bunch of plants and an online community, they donated 80 weekly food boxes to help families in need!

A few weeks ago, we got a note from a sweet girl who was going off to college. She and her older brother have been long-time SOS supporters. In her note, she says, “I just want to thank you for our partnership over the past few years. Through various fundraisers, including hosting a kickball tournament and selling t-shirts and stickers, we have raised money, which we would like to donate towards the rescue project. We are so excited to provide rescue and support for a girl. We just want to thank you for giving us an opportunity to help those in at-risk areas! We are beyond grateful for your organization.”  She and her brother both leveraged their friendships and fun to impact the lives of others, and it’s incredible.

The countless number of people leveraging their marketable skills to impact the lives of others is inspiring. Even the centerfold piece of this magazine displays this concept as architects, interior decorators, and amazing salon owners use their careers to bring hope to girls trapped in captivity, over and over and over again. This is what represents the heart and the spirit behind “Community Development.”

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