Getting Started With Community and Economic Development

“I want to make a difference.”

We hear this phrase often, but what does making a difference really mean? Do you want to plant trees, manage a food drive, or paint a mural? Do you want to make sure that the rules that govern you are inclusive and fair? Or, do you want to tell your hometown’s stories in a way that excites others about the prospect of visiting or living there? Often, the best place to start to make a difference is in your own town or neighborhood. You know the people, the community, and the good things that are already happening there. 

At the WV Community Development Hub (The Hub), we work with people who want to make a difference every single day. Sometimes it’s a large team of people working to rehabilitate a historic downtown building, and sometimes it’s one person working to start a backpack donation program at their child’s school. We work with retired folks wanting to leave better neighborhoods for the next generation and young entrepreneurs who are setting up lemonade stands in their front yards.  

Anyone can work to build up their community. Thriving cities and towns often have a robust group of volunteers and leaders engaged who are working to create a better future through the creation of physical spaces, activities, and inclusive policies. 

If you have ever thought about making a difference in your community, this lesson is a great introduction to community development, which is the technical term for “making a difference” at the local level. 

We’re going to start by inspiring you to take part in community building, since that’s the very first step!

Activities

Choose 2-3 of the following activities and readings to familiarize yourself with community building and the model that we at The Hub use in all of our programming. Take your time to really dig in and be thoughtful; this is a journey that can last for several years, or even a lifetime.  

Writing Activities:

  • Now it’s time to take inspiration from others and dream big in your own community! Look around and complete this activity sheet, laying out your own dreams of community building. This is a brainstorming exercise to get the juices flowing. You may share with others or keep these thoughts to yourself for now.  

 

Reading Activities:

  • Read this article describing a number of definitions that an organization in Detroit uses within its work to move neighborhoods forward.  
  • Check out this list of sample projects and community building ideas for inspiration in your own street, neighborhood, or town. Community projects are signals of change and show how residents define and envision positive progress.

 

Listening Activities:

The Hub has a unique model of community engagement through individual and group leadership development. We find joy in working with West Virginia communities every day. Listen to this podcast produced by Strong Towns, introducing The Hub and two of our community coaches, Amanda Workman-Scott and Jenny Totten.

Reflection

Here’s your chance to take some time to think and reflect on your dreams and interests. Keep a community building journal, scribble notes on some post-its, or simply think about these questions before moving on to the next lesson!

  • What are you most excited about in your community?
  • Why is making a difference important to you?
  • Why is now the right moment for your community?
  • Why are you ready to get started?

Community Development in Action

We love to lift up examples of communities and residents who are working hard to make a difference in West Virginia. For this lesson, we chose a community who knew they needed to bring a group of people together in order to start making a difference.

The city of Buckhannon can teach and inspire us all about community development and how it happens at the right time. It’s a circular and sometimes bumpy process. This community has been working for over a decade to revitalize its downtown, introduce local foods, and build up local businesses. At the center of this progress is an ongoing weekly community conversation that is open to anybody who wants to attend. Buckhannon’s ongoing success relies on new and fresh ideas constantly coming to fruition, and this happens when enough people who gather in a space together want to see change.

Watch this HubCAP video highlighting Buckhannon and their amazing work!

Ready to keep going?