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A Reflection on Community Engagement and Passions

Aug 17 2020

Jess out for an after-work hike. (photo credit: Jess Dominick)

By Jess Dominick '22
Hometown: Angels Camp, CA
Major: Architectural Design
Parks for People Bay Area Project Intern, The Trust for Public Lands

Out West Student Blog

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Throughout my internship this summer, I’ve been able to learn about the importance of having difficult conversations. In my job, one of my main projects is working directly with community members to discuss the possible harm that our projects may have on their neighborhoods. The urban greening projects that we develop are poised to help the community and have plenty of public support, but the risk of gentrification and displacement cannot be ignored. In the work we do reimagining public spaces, we are inherently putting the surrounding residents at risk of instability, something that must be addressed. Developments must be made to ensure that we are providing beneficial services rather than harm to the places that we aim to support. Uplifting community voices in all planning processes is the most important step towards equitably serving the communities we are involved with. I’ve appreciated actively listening to their thoughts, concerns, and ideas about what a future community, city, or world could look like, especially now at such a pivotal point in history. Talking with community members and discussing the work we do is something that can be done anywhere, especially from home when people have more flexible time to hop on a phone call and chat about their passions and histories. That’s been one of the most rewarding parts of this internship. I’ve been able to meet with people who care so deeply about their communities and do such important work to advocate for positive change. It’s been inspiring to learn about their stories and work with them to develop strategies and plans that address their concerns.

One of the conversations I had with a community member working closely on one of our projects began with a question about how my organization can more effectively engage surrounding residents and advocates in order to promote openness, internal innovation, and support for the project. I began by prefacing my belief that organizations such as the one I work for can inherently be harmful to many communities, but that we want to learn how we can effectively combat these situations while still promoting our goals of equity and access to green space. As our discussion ranged from direct outreach to organized event-planning, at one point we began talking about a world where communities didn’t need outside organizations like mine to promote wellbeing and development in their own neighborhoods. In a reimagined world, communities that have faced systemic racism and environmental injustice would have the resources to advocate for themselves and build projects internally and holistically. We discussed mutual aid, workforce development, and land acknowledgements as some of the many facets of this future world that we both aim to advocate for. At the end of the conversation, they told me that usually people don’t ask these types of questions in interviews. They said that they were wary about this project, but by reaching out and having such a great conversation, they were able to connect more with me, the project, and my organization. What began as a tough conversation turned into one where we both were able to discuss our passions and dreams for the future, and I was able to learn a lot more about myself, my job, and how I can effectively listen and learn from others.

Through these conversations with community members and advocates, I’ve learned how to talk about tough issues with people and genuinely form connections that encourage engagement and collaboration. I’ve learned that this is the most important thing to this type of work, and I will carry that with me no matter what I end up doing in the future. I’ve learned a lot about what I want to do with my life. I want to help people. I want to talk to people about their passions. I want to listen to their words and histories. This internship has shown me that I can do so much more with my service for the communities I work with. By engaging with people fully and holistically, I’ve been able to make meaningful connections and truly learn what I am passionate about.

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