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A great article by Gloria F. Mengual outlines how the Study Circles Resource Center and the Annie E. Casey Foundation have helped neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Indiana, solve their problems through dialogue and collaborative action. According to Mengual, “Since 2000, 780 residents have participated in the 92 Family Circles held in 30 neighborhoods. Participants identified many action ideas they wanted to pursue, including new playgrounds, mentoring programs, after school programs, safe houses for teens and more.” Click below for the full article.

Neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Indiana, have become much more than bricks and mortar after participating in a project called “Family Circles.” Residents have built relationships, exchanged ideas and taken action. Working together, individual citizens, local organizations and city officials are using their time and talents to make their shared neighborhood vision a reality.

“More neighbors now know each other,” said project coordinator Alicia Barnett. “New leaders have emerged. Families have reconnected to nearby services and resources available to them. Residents are discussing issues, exchanging information and resources and ultimately, becoming a driving force within their neighborhood.”

Part of the “Making Connections” initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Family Circles gave citizens facing ongoing, difficult issues an opportunity to voice their views and solve neighborhood problems. The program brings together neighborhood residents from diverse background for a series of small-group discussions. Everyone has a “say,” and the dialogue leads to action in a variety of ways.

The staff of the Study Circles Resource Center provided training and organizing assistance for the project. The circles used the dialogue guide Building Strong Neighborhoods for Families with Children, developed by SCRC in collaboration with the Casey Foundation.

An advisory board of neighborhood leaders selected neighborhood-based organizations to host the circles. Those organizations were responsible for recruiting facilitators and participants, arranging space for circles, and making arrangements for food and child care.

Since 2000, 780 residents have participated in the 92 Family Circles held in 30 neighborhoods. Participants identified many action ideas they wanted to pursue, including new playgrounds, mentoring programs, after school programs, safe houses for teens and more.

Future plans include continuing the Family Circles, providing leadership development opportunities for emerging grassroots leaders, and continuing to connect residents with city government, planners and funders.

To date, one of those connections has taken place in The Family Strengthening Coalition. The Coalition — made up of the Mayor’s Office, United Way of Central Indiana, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation — now has Family Circles representation.

The Indianapolis Family Circles is one of many study circle programs that have been held throughout the country in the last decade. These programs rely on small-group meetings (such as the Family Circles), large-group meetings (sometimes called action forums), and the sense that every citizen can help to solve community problems.


This article can be found at www.studycircles.org/pages/success/indsuccess.php.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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