Community in 3 Parts
Last fall, I looked at some of the disheartening statistics in the Allendale school system. I realized that in order for a child to succeed (and for us to improve our school report card), parents, schools, and the community need to work together.
But as I’ve been working in my new job, and talking to variety of folks in Allendale County, I realize that we need to hone in on this concept of community, and define it more clearly.
As I’ve written, community is definitely one of the strengths of Allendale. Sticking together isn’t an option; it’s a requirement for making it through tough times.
Want to know a huge struggle that we have in Allendale? Getting families and individuals to come out to events, like parent nights, art shows, and performances of Salkehatchie Stew. In general, large events have not done well.
Usually, my mindset has been to get people to big meetings, and let those big events drive the small. But since the strength of Allendale is in its community, maybe we should let the small drive the big. We need to go to where the people already are, equip and inspire them there, and use that sense of community to drive attendance to occasional big events.
What Are the Parts of Community?
The smallest and most basic unit of community is the household, followed by the extended family. In light of this, perhaps we can re-label our original three aspects of parents, schools, and community as families, schools, and community. Switching from parents to families is another post for another day.
Outside of the family unit, there are three main units in the community that we need to partner with and communicate through:
A few weeks ago, we invited a number local business leaders to a breakfast forum at Allendale Elementary School. The superintendent encouraged these leaders to be our ambassadors in the community, to spread the truth that good things are happening in our schools. With the principal excitedly sharing a list of positive results and undertakings, and we a student-led tour, the participants saw first-hand that children were in fact being educated. Furthermore, this event was a starting point to more dialogue about how the schools and local businesses can partner together to build tomorrow’s workforce.
Typical for a rural area in the Bible-belt, most residents attend church each week. As far as I know, there are no large churches (>200 in attendance), and most are very small (<50). But pastors are highly respected by their congregants. In an area with few leaders (especially male leaders), pastors are seen as a source of trusted advice and needed comfort. Therefore, since people flock to church services, and they’ll trust their pastor, we need to work through the local church in order to equip parents and help children. (Read about how one church partnered with the school for a Town Hall meeting.)
Allendale has an increasing number of neighborhood associations (and this great training event). These neighborhoods are the third main aspect of community that we need to work through. I’ve already talked with a few of the these association leaders, and we’ve brainstormed ways that we can reach families through the neighborhoods. For example, instead of asking parents to come to a big event at the school, can we not have smaller events right in their own neighborhood? Doing so would eliminate challenges like transportation and childcare. Additionally, we can enlist the help of neighbors to look after and train children. In small communities, everyone pitches in.
To have a long-term impact in Allendale, we need to equip the next generation for future success. But no one can do this alone. In order for a child to succeed, we need families, schools, and the community to work together. And community here includes working partnering with local businesses, churches, and neighborhoods.