Since 2012, LISC Philadelphia has been supporting and honing the Community Connectors program, forging a model for resident engagement rooted in local places, that leverages local knowledge and strengths. An article in Generocity delves into the workings of the program, the neighborhood people who make it tick and how LISC’s sustained partnership has helped improve community connection, safety and wellbeing across the city.
“This neighborhood is ingrained in me,” said Dante Leonard, a father and Mantua resident. “I know stories from this neighborhood that will make you cringe. And I know stories of redemption from this neighborhood.”
Leonard grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and West Philadelphia. His grandmother’s house, which he helps manage as a rental property, has been passed from generation to generation.
Leonard became a Community Connector at the People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a community development corporation in West Philadelphia, in 2019. Like many other Connectors, Leonard’s has strong ties to his neighborhood.
The Community Connectors Program and Institute is a part of LISC Philadelphia’s community development efforts to engage neighborhood residents. LISC, a national community development organization, has offices across the country. LISC Philadelphia provides funding and technical assistance to the program, which is made up of six community-based organizations:
The organizations identify potential Connectors from their volunteers. When a volunteer accepts the position, they are referred to the institute.
“The two main objectives of the institute, which is a six-week workshop, is to try to teach the fundamentals of community development and then teach the Community Connectors what is their role within that,” said Verónica Ayala-Flores, a LISC Philadelphia program assistant, who leads the institute.
The program’s model has evolved since its creation in 2012 when the West Philadelphia nonprofit Enterprise Center formed “street teams” to engage with their residents. APM and PEC adopted the approach with support from LISC Philadelphia.
As the Connectors program continues, it offers a template for a community development model that empowers residents, organizations and youth. But the program’s operational demands are increasing.