20under40: Working to develop ‘community’

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Community Development Educator, Amy Greil

I consider myself lucky for having found a passion not only in my career but in a career that connects me deeply to Kenosha County’s community.

As a community development educator with Kenosha County University of Wisconsin-Extension, I am often asked, “But Amy, what do you do?… What does a community development educator actually do?” I aptly reply, “Well, how much time do I have? ”

It is not simple to explain (not like saying “I’m a firefighter”) but it is a dream job to me. Here’s my attempt to put it in plain language.

You see, just because we have multitudes of individuals (professionals, tradesmen, laborers, students, youth, seniors, parents) and organizations (private sector, public sector, non-profit, philanthropic) in Kenosha County — and I work with all of these — most often I see that these individuals and organizations need assistance working together.

Particularly, they need assistance from “the outside” (ie. UW-Extension) when they see a need and want to address it but are spinning their wheels.

Most times my work is a matter of “weaving” together people with knowledge and resources, helping individuals and groups articulate shared goals and (the hardest part of all) demonstrating shared measures of success.

Still not sure what I mean?

I most often start engaging individuals and groups by building relationships. I see that deepening between people within groups — and people across groups is where the power lies. With authentic connections and this term “bonding capital,” individuals and groups can then work to purposes.

I do this by asking questions through individual meetings and group meetings (that’s probably why you see me so much at Buzz Café) and checking for agreement among the many folks involved. Meanwhile, I take time to engage in ongoing stakeholder analysis — who else needs to be considered? Whose voices are not included — and should be?

After finding some alignment of shared purpose, then we move on to production,achieving intended outcomes and positive impacts and — if we are really lucky and want to be a little lofty in our aims — community transformation.

This C-A-P process lies at the heart of community development: connect, align, produce. And, fortunately, this simple formula is a cyclical process. I lead people and groups through the cycle (deeper connection, deeper alignment, deeper production) again and again until they have the gist and I am no longer required.

“Community” does not just happen, it has to be continuously nurtured and strengthened because day by day the forces of busy life such as competing demands, constrained resources and a heck of a lot of stress tend to wear down, or prevent altogether strong bonds from developing between people and organizations.

It takes constant maintenance to develop “community.”

Thank you to the visionary leadership of Wisconsin people, like you readers, who allow me to do this community development work every day in Kenosha County by continuing to invest in UW-Extension.