Building Inclusive Communities
Real Communities Partnerships were launched statewide in 2010 by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) to partner with local groups working to build more than just communities. It's a thoughtful, action learning approach that equips community members at the local, grassroots level to work together toward common goals to improve their community using person-centered supports, community-centered connections and persistent and reflective learning. Purposefully involving people with and without developmental disabilities in collaborative projects is pivotal to the framework of Real Communities.
We seek to support communities who welcome and utilize the gifts of everyone, including those who have been historically marginalized and create avenues toward reciprocity, interdependence and social change. Key to our approach is the use of the following Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) principles, which make use of already-existing resources in the community in a different and newly successful manner:
- When people discover what they have, they find power.
- When people join together in new connections and relationships, they build power.
- When people become more productive together, they exercise their power to address problems and realize dreams.
GCDD actively supports communities in a number of ways, including technical assistance, training, popular education, and at times, financial support. Projects are determined by individual communities, as opposed to GCDD staff, and vary according to local needs and desires. They could range from community-based transportation to cooperatives to community gardens. By handing the reins to individual communities and leading by stepping back, GCDD supports real communities as they flourish and achieve real and lasting community-based change.
- Al Tamyoz Community Building Group – Clarkston, GA
- Centenary United Methodist Church (Macon Roving Listeners) - Macon, GA
- Connectability Meet Your Neighbor - Dahlonega, GA
- Forsyth Farmers' Market – Savannah, GA
- Hillside Neigborhood - LaGrange, GA
- Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farms – Americus, GA
How GCDD supports Real Communities Partners: Typically, each Real Communities partner has a community builder whose role is to build the group, support implementation of the work and create sustainability and accountability. Successful community builders work toward the goals of empowerment – helping people mobilize, obtain resources and develop strategies that promote their interests or causes. A strong community builder seeks to develop leadership in others, as opposed to working on their behalf. With, not for, is a guiding principle for our community builders.
Training & Development: We support the training and development of each local community builder via coaching and mentoring by GCDD staff and Real Communities consultants. We also provide community builders with regular training and learning opportunities to sharpen their skills and add new tools to their organizational toolboxes.
Training Opportunities: We provide Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), popular education, person-centered planning and other training opportunities for members of each local Real Communities partner. We work with local projects to create an evaluation plan that works for their unique project and local environment. Each community defines what success means to them and creates steps to reach those goals. We provide opportunities for community builders and local groups to take part in "learning journeys." These journeys give groups an opportunity to travel to places where innovative community work is happening, so they can learn on the ground and do participatory research on what might work for them. We feel this process helps to avoid "recreating the wheel."
Learning Circle: Real Communities includes an ongoing Learning Circle of local community initiatives and committed community members in Georgia who want to learn together about building more inclusive welcoming communities where people with disabilities have good lives as contributing community members. The Learning Circle seeks to intentionally cultivate innovation and creativity in practical terms by letting go of old ideas, reflecting on our new experiences and experimenting with new action approaches. The Learning Circle is a container to hold the organizing and learning components of Real Communities. It will be an ever evolving process as we learn together and from each other. We seek to be a trusting circle of support where each of us can share our insights and our success, as well as our confusion and challenges. We are "creating the road as we walk it" toward more welcoming communities where people with developmental disabilities are valued members.
Real Communities Videos: GCDD presents "Getting Real in Georgia," a video highlighting GCDD's Real Communities partners and what they are all about. To view the video, Click here. Additionally, GCDD commissioned five other video projects to celebrate its Real Communities Initiative and share the stories of people with and without disabilities working together to achieve common goals that strengthen community life for everyone. To see all the videos, Click here.
Real Communities Best Practices
Real Communities Partnerships draw on three sources of knowledge that give them a common language and core of practices.
- Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) guides the process of community-building.
- Person-Centered Support guides the discovery of people's gifts and defines the conditions necessary for them to offer those gifts to the Real Communities Partnership.
- Purposeful Learning offers a set of disciplines for gaining a deeper understanding of the work.
Real Communities aims to make choice real for more people with developmental disabilities so that they can exercise the responsibility to act as contributing citizens to make their community better for everyone. A Real Communities Partner accepts four commitments and four responsibilities for learning.
Real Communities Four Commitments
1. People with developmental disabilities are active members
People with developmental disabilities are active members who influence the group's direction and participate in doing its work. Action is with people with developmental disabilities, not for them.
This Means Learning ... to keep asking "Whose gifts are missing?" and discovering how to reach out, invite and actively involve people who need personalized support in order to contribute to their community.
2. Action focuses on making the community better for everyone.
Action focuses on making the community better for everyone.The initiative is not about specialized responses to disability but about engaging people who care about working together on local issues of common interest.
This Means Learning ... to listen carefully to fellow citizens outside the circle of those primarily concerned with disability to discover what local issues people care about enough to take action together.
3. Over time, the initiative builds up local capacity for collective action
Over time, the initiative builds up local capacity for collective action by creating and strengthening continuing relationships with a variety of associations and groups. The initiative is not about single victories but about building communities where people have a growing capacity to act together.
This Means Learning ... to build and strengthen local alliances and networks.
4. Participants take responsibility for sharing what they are learning.
This Means Learning ... to reflect together on the work and identify and communicate its lessons.