What Does "Resident-Driven" Really Mean?

By Megan Briggs, Director of Family Services

Lately, in the Family Services department, we’ve been increasing our efforts in community organizing in both our Pottstown and Norristown neighborhoods. This work is as difficult, as it is rewarding; especially during a time when voter turnout rates are 15% for elections, and when our nation’s citizens are so politically divided, engagement can feel pointless. However, here at Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, we persist, and we persist with our values consistent in ensuring that our community organizing efforts are resident-driven, but what does that really mean?

Recently, in Pottstown, we had our fourth monthly community meeting this year. We’ve been gaining momentum over the past few weeks, starting to see some of the same familiar faces – and really starting to understand the neighborhood. We are at the point now where it is time to propel our work forward -- the group in Pottstown wants to focus on combating some of the littering issues, as well as disposal policies over the next few months.  I have a billion ideas of events, campaigns, slogans, workshops, policies to push etc. that we could do to combat the trash issue in that area, but the most important thing I’ve learned in these community organizing efforts, is that my ideas don’t matter. Seriously!

As an outsider to this neighborhood, and recognizing the privileges that have been and are a part of my every day, I could never understand what will work best for this community, as much as someone who lives there. Our role, as the facilitator, is to bring out the ideas from neighbors themselves, combine them to craft a common agenda, and ensure that every voice, especially traditionally marginalized voices, are not only heard but lifted up. Resident-driven means going with a project that doesn’t always resonate with me, that means giving the group the final say, that means giving up control.

What’s the result of resident driven programming? True community ownership over driving the increase in quality of life in these neighborhoods. From my perspective, it’s working. We had 30 people attend our last Pottstown Community meeting. They submitted ideas for their group name, they chose how they’d like to spend a small budget on an area that will impact the neighborhood, and they shot down my idea of formalized block captains J. If you ask me how to solve the voting turn out issue, or the divisions in our politics, the answer you’ll get from me is… ask your community. Engagement on the local level leads to a national conversation.