The Community Engagement Center in the Hill District is a vibrant building, with strong, dedicated employees that serve a resilient, hard-working community. My time here has taught me a great deal as I seek to navigate the world of respectful, helpful community engagement.
The most important skills at the Hill CEC are communication, organization, and understanding. The Hill CEC follows a model of place-based hyperlocal engagement, which is integral to ensuring a genuinely positive impact on the community. This entails actively listening to the needs and wants of the community, and working to sustainably reach goals set for the community, by the community. It is an imperative part of respectful community engagement. With it, comes the listening. Listening, truly listening, and not the kind of listening where we’re thinking about how we’ll respond and what we’ll say next, is an important, but often overlooked, skill. At the CEC, however, actively listening to the community is central to everything we do. Community members lean on each other and uplift one another in moments of hardship. The CEC in the Hill District feeds into this sense of uplifting as it serves to support and engage with the Hill District and its residents, rather than trying to push beliefs onto them or disrespectfully take charge. At our first meeting, Kirk Holbrook, the director, talked to Sarah and me about Sankofa. He described it as the concept of reaching into the past and taking knowledge from it, as a way of learning from and preventing repeats of our mistakes. This is another integral part of community engagement in the Hill District, congruent with our model of respecting and listening to the community, compared with past attempts to change and disregard their wants and needs.
The Hill District CEC supports the community and residents through various programs and initiatives, including digital literacy for older adults, STEAM and literacy initiatives for K-12 students, and grant-writing workshops for interested future business leaders, to name a few. As I said, unique to this organization is the strong sense of community and, more specifically, listening to the community and prioritizing their needs as opposed to acting as an independent, external body. The Hill CEC is truly immersed, in every sense of the word, in the community it serves. With communication as a forefront to our mission, I’ve spent a lot of time this summer thinking about outreach and language, through flyers, emails, phone calls, and online forms. One project I recently worked on was a Resource Map, made with Google, so that the CEC could have a stronger idea of resources that are available to the community. I’ve been able to think about how best to advertise and promote our programs to ensure that residents have access to all of the great initiatives hosted here. These opportunities to interact with the community have been invaluable, especially when I’ve been able to meet them in-person at events such as our CEC Summer Fun Day, Adult Cybersecurity Camp, Camp Bio-E, or our first STEAM Saturday. Whether from young children or experienced adults, there is such a vast amount of wisdom to be gained from residents’ stories, memories, and experiences.
Whether it be through making flyers for upcoming programming in Canva or interacting with older adults at the Mindfulness Workshop I ran at our recent Summer Fun Day, the first half of my time at the Hill CEC has truly been invaluable to me. Not only has my time here been educational, in strengthening my ability to communicate and widening my perspectives, it has also been fun in the simplest, most wholesome way: I have loved getting to know my colleagues and the community and, especially, watching the kids and their love of learning with our STEAM outreach efforts. I am truly looking forward to what July and August will bring, and I’m excited to report back!