NeighborWorks Lincoln is a nonprofit community housing development organization that actively partners with residents, businesses, and public officials to increase access to affordable housing and strengthen neighborhoods; their mission is to provide and advocate for safe, accessible, affordable housing. Community Builder and Marketing Specialist at NeighborWorks Tut Kailech shares about the community forums that Neighborworks has hosted and how the Nebraska Table's Civic Engagement Fund has supported them.
“For the past six years, we've hosted an annual neighborhood forum with participation from the City of Lincoln that connected neighborhood association leaders with key city staff in order to have dialogue about priorities, concerns and aspirations,” said Kailech. “In alignment with our new strategic plan and with the funding assistance from Nebraska Table, we're working towards redesigning the forums to be more inclusive and focusing on all Lincoln residents, not just those who are part of neighborhood associations.”
NeighborWorks held a community forum this March at a public library on the northwest side of Lincoln. The focus of these forums has been on increasing engagement, expanding equity, and generating constructive dialogue that all attendees can carry forward. NeighborWorks wants to prioritize equity at the forefront of these events, so they have assembled an advisory group: a committee composed of residents to help brainstorm, plan, and moderate and lead these dialogues. This advisory group was created because in the past, it had just been NeighborWorks staff, and that's not inclusive or equitable, Kailech said.
“The younger members of our advisory group, which are high schoolers from North Star, were the ones facilitating the discussion. They were pretty much navigating the conversation throughout the event, and that's something that you don't see a lot, especially when it has to do with community based events. A lot of times they're getting talked to, not being talked with. Kudos to them. We wanted to center their voices because we felt that their opinions were often overlooked in such community conversations,” Kailech said.
To work toward achieving equity and access in this space, NeighborWorks provided childcare, an often overlooked barrier. People wonder ‘who's going to look after my kid?’ and may not be able to attend community events. NeighborWorks was also able to secure two translators and interpreters for the event.
“The way that came into fruition was we had everybody who spoke a certain language at a table and then we had that translator and interpreter discussing that [topic with them]. When it came to the large group questions, we asked the translators to actually translate that to the whole group in their language,” Kailech said.
The next forum is planned for the first week of June and the community has been a crucial part of the planning process. During these community conversations, a post-forum survey asked folks what other topics they want to discuss, so NeighborWorks is not simply assuming what community members want to hear. They want to provide an environment where all those topics that community members are interested in are being discussed and connecting it to an activity or event.
“A lot of times residents forget what areas or topics need attention and I think it's because of the lack of trust. A lot of times they don't feel like their voices are being heard or that nothing is being done with their concerns. So, how can we start to build that trust? Well, first off, let's just start with having a basic conversation, but preface it with, [resident leaders say] what our flag is. They're telling us what they want. And then we're using our resources and partnerships to bring that about,” Kailech said.
Kailech thinks that, going forward, these strategies and approaches will help increase the diversity of community discussions and center equity in these discussions. Kailech mentioned the forums could turn into a series of regular community town halls in the future if the interest is there.
“[The forum] is kind of a pilot thing and I think a lot of people have loved what we've done with the first one. Okay, how can we do this on a quarterly basis instead of just once a year? I'm excited about that.”