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Covington Group Learns About Community Leadership at California Conference

Editor's Note: RCN Editor & Publisher Michael Monks is a member of The Awesome Collective of Covington's CORE leadership team and attended this conference with that organization which was funded by a grant from NeighborWorks America through the Center for Great Neighborhoods. He is the author of this post.


More than a thousand people from more than a hundred community organizations across the country attended the NeighborWorks America Community Leadership Institute (CLI) in Sacramento last weekend.

The Awesome Collective of Covington, in partnership with the Center for Great Neighborhoods, was among them. In all, Covington was represented by eight residents at the conference.

NeighborWorks America, which creates opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities, supports a network of more than 240 nonprofits, located in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Participants from around the country attend the Community Leadership Institute as part of teams of up to eight people from areas served by NeighborWorks organizations.

The conference started with an opening reception on Thursday night, October 17 and then got going with a morning session on Friday.

"We create opportunities for individuals and families to live in affordable homes, improve their lives, and strengthen their communities," said NeighborWorks CEO Chuck Wehrwein.

Opening speakers included Sacramento's Vice Mayor, Angelique Ashby.

"I started out exactly where you are sitting in one of those seats, a person who found myself in a community that needed some leadership, that needed some help," Ashby said. A single mom out of high school, Ashby put herself through UC-Davis and then law school. She used food stamps and subsidized child care to help. "I used everything I could to get myself in a place where I could better serve my community."

After college, she bought her first home. "When I bought into my community and saw there was a need to fulfill, I felt it was my duty to give back to my neighborhood and get involved," Ashby said.
"We all get to go around this world one time so what you do right now to make your community special and connected makes life better for all of us."
The morning's keynote speech was by CLI regular J. Otis Smith, a professor and consultant from Pennsylvania. He used his ability to captivate an audience to hammer a point: community meetings must be engaging.
"Residential leadership is not supposed to be drudgery, it's supposed to be fun and everyone that comes to your meeting is supposed to be excited," Smith said. "The goal is to create an environment where the members are thrilled to come to your meetings."
Smith offered six points for organizational leaders to take home: meetings must be fun, sustainable people are necessary in the organization, people must be respected and engaged, the spotlight should be shared, resident power is hidden in commitment, and measure the success.
Expanding on those points, Smith suggested that organizations should decrease the number of minutes spent by the president speaking, lessen the time spent as a big group and work in smaller sub-groups, cut down conflict and repetition, and increase resident discussions.
He also had something to say to those who don't look toward the future.
"People who live in the past, they are happy but they will not be able to sustain your organization in the present or the future because they are living in the past," he said. "There's nothing bad about it, it's just that they're spending their whole life in how it used to be. They can't help us sustain where the community will be going. I don't throw away the good of what happened in the past but I look at what's happening."
Those attending the conference signed up for specialized classes prior to arriving and attended three sessions on Friday and Saturday. The author of this post attended a session on organizing for community safety, celebrating our differences, and sustainable green living in affordable housing.
The community safety session was led by former Georgia and Florida police officer William C. Daniels.
"A lot of time when dealing with crime issues in specific cities, it becomes really challenging (for community leaders) to say we need you guys to admit what the issues are so we can effectively deal with them," Daniels said. 
He said the quality of education in a community can affect the level of crime. "A good education, that actually serves the welfare of a community and actually moves it forward," he said.
Other deterrents to crime include employment opportunities, youth activities, affordable housing, good public transportation, involved parents, and green space.
Elements in a community that can lead to higher crime rates include poverty, unemployment, truancy, and poor housing.
"I don't care what kind of crime it is. For a crime to occur, three things have to exist: a suitable target, no guardian present to protect, and a motivated offender aware of those two," he said. "You don't have to interrupt all three, just one."
Daniels cited a "Peelian Principle", one of the outlines created for an ethical police force. "The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public."
"The key component in your relationship building is going to be trust," Daniels said. "I don't care if it was five years ago, ten years ago, a hundred years ago, how was the trust in this community breached?"
Ginlin Woo, a teacher and consultant based in Seattle, led a session on celebrating diversity in a community.
"This conversation permeates everything we do in a community," Woo said. She led the group in table sessions in which each described through crafts what made them different and when they first realized their differences, and discussed how diversity in their communities back home was recognized and embraced.
A third and final session was an excursion to Davis, California for a tour of various affordable housing developments that have a lower than average carbon footprint and more efficient usage of energy. Solar panels are prominently featured on homes throughout Davis.
Following the conference in Sacramento, a California river city with a thriving Downtown nightlife and food scene in the backdrop of the state capital, members of The Awesome Collective of Covington spent two personally-funded days in San Francisco. (SEE ALSO: Photos: Awesome Collective Represents Covington in California)

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News\

Photo: Members of The Awesome Collective at the Sacramento Convention Center/Blair Grayson

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