2008-10-30 / Letters

Community Organizing Is Hard

To The Editor:

I've listened to a lot of people make fun of being a "community organizer." I heard a York resident on the radio say that no one had ever explained to him what a "community organizer" does. As a voter, he should have taken the responsibility to find out.

I once had a job that was supposed to involve community organizing. I say "supposed to" because I was not very good at it. I think community organizing is one of the hardest jobs there is.

A community organizer is just what it says. It is a person who goes into a community to help the people organize to accomplish some goal. It is hard, because most people will resent an outsider who comes in and tells them what to do. So, as a community organizer you don't do that. Instead, a community organizer has to have the patience and skills to:

1. Develop trust, so that the people will listen and work with you. Because on the community level, people soon know if you are lying or exaggerating or blowing hot air. So, a community organizer has to be honest from the get-go with himself and with the community he is working in.

2. Listen. Because a community organizer believes that the people of the community themselves know what they want and need and what is best for themselves. The community organizer is not there to tell the people what they should want; he is there to get the people to start thinking and talking for themselves.

3. Understand the community. Because the community has the resources

that have to be used to accomplish

the goal. As a community organizer you are usually working in communities that have very little money. So, you know that the main resource of the community is its people.

4. Assist the people to help themselves. A community organizer doesn't accomplish the goal for the community, he assists the people by teaching them skills and tactics that they can use to accomplish it themselves. Because a community organizer is not only concerned about accomplishing the immediate goal. In accomplishing the one goal, the organizer wants to create leadership and skills in the community itself that can continue on to work for the good of the community after the organizer leaves. It is the very nature of the job that a community organizer is an agent of change.

Community organizing is hard. It is a lot easier to tell someone what to do and then do it for them. Leading people to start looking to themselves for help and to get them to start working to accomplish their own goals is hard and dangerous. Because, if you fail, you can set back a community for years. That is a real responsibility to have on your shoulders. Once you start, you have to have the strength of character to see it through.

I leave it to the individual to decide if a successful community organizer has good executive experience. But I, for one, think it is one of the best training experiences for leadership a person can have. Dwight C. Harvey McConnellsburg

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