Community Development: It Is All About the Who

One of my most challenging tasks as an Executive Director is answering the question, “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  When people focus on the “what”, I find they miss the more important question of “who.”  The “what” sounds like this: “We helped the residents of Hillside Court start a community center that includes a computer lab, a mom’s support group, a food pantry, monthly community fellowship events,  a clothing closet, activities for seniors, an after school creative and performing arts program, gardening projects, GED tutoring, vocational mentoring and leadership development training.”  While all these activities meet real needs within a community, the activities themselves are not as important as the residents from the neighborhood who are doing all this work.   Embrace does not do any of this alone, it is all done by neighbors who care enough to get involved.

When we entered the Hillside Court community more than three years ago, the recreation center had been closed down for several years.  There was a sense of despair in the community.  We heard stories like this one shared by a long-time resident,

“Used to be that the recreation center was open to the community and they had all kind of activities for the residents.  Different groups have been in that building over the years, they always leave.  I don’t believe anything will ever change around here.  I don’t think anyone really cares about this neighborhood.”

The recreation center is once again bustling with activity and over the past three years, we have seen dozens of residents step up and take on leadership roles.   This coming fall, Embrace Richmond will be leading by stepping back.  Our resident leadership team is now strong enough to lead the effort with Embrace Richmond simply contributing the financial, moral and spiritual support they need to keep the center open to the community and thriving.

Below are the pictures of just a few of the key leaders who will assume control of the Hillside Recreation Center.  If you ask me “What does Embrace Richmond do?”  I will likely show you these pictures and say, “We support neighbors who build great neighborhoods.”  This is what true community development success looks like, neighbors helping neighbors.

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