Friday, July 29, 2011

New Community Ideas: Next Steps

Day Two of "Developing New Community Ideas"
As promised, here is the more comprehensive follow-up about our “New Community Ideas” session at the biennial community psychology conference in Chicago. Day One was all about sharing ideas and prioritizing them, choosing one or two projects to collectively support. The group selected “Neighborhood Skills Exchange,” described by Vincent Francisco as follows:

“The idea is simple. Create a list of community members that have something to share. Then share them. Exchanging special skills, yard work, cooking, pet and child sitting, other things, could really transform the social dynamics in a neighborhood.”

There were many great ideas, but it’s easy to see why this idea gained so much traction. It’s simple, local in application but global in potential reach, and is perfectly aligned with CP values such as fostering sense of community. On Day Two we were faced with a tall order and a shorter time frame than we’d worked with previously. We had 45 minutes to  discuss (1) how to transform this idea into a reality, and (2) how community psychologists, and particularly SCRA members, can share and advance good ideas in the future.

We came up with a general outline for how to push this idea forward and used it to come up with a formula of sorts for implementing great new ideas:

Step 1: Find someone in community who cares – spearhead/champion.
Step 2: Do background research. Look at previous models. Look at literature.
Step 3: Get the word out and gain further support.
Step 4: Work with existing systems - get buy-in.
Step 5: Set up infrastructure (sustainability).
Step 6: Create step by step instructions so it can be replicated.

In order to push forward this particular idea, we agreed that it needed more specifics than we could deliver in the time frame, and it needed an owner so that collective responsibility did not translate into inactivity. Vincent agreed to be the owner, and three others agreed to assist him in writing up the next steps.

 Along the way, we had great conversations about barter economies; high- and low-tech tools for sharing skills; and the importance of using a platform like this to support, rather than supplant, people trying to make a living with their skills. The SCRA community mini-grant was also suggested as a means to assist with start-up costs for this project.

As far as pushing forward good ideas in the future, we came up with the idea to have an annual New Community Ideas Initiative, that would award and fund great ideas. Two attendees took on the task of writing up a description of the Initiative, while the manager of the Community Toolbox volunteered to help with dissemination.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to share great ideas online (e.g. SCRA wiki, Changethinkers, ), and we’ve yet to make decisions. We’d love to hear what you have to say – how do you share ideas? What do you think of the Neighborhood Skills Exchange? Do you already have something like this in your neighborhood? Would you want to implement one?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Community Psychologist Practitioner Spotlight: Pamela Imm

“I frequently tell people that I have the best job in the world.  It is fun and provides interesting work that is rewarding on a lot of levels.  I enjoy telling people what I do for work although I find that I never answer that question in the same way.”

Name: Pamela Imm, Ph.D.
Title: Community Psychologist
Employer: Self Employed; has office at LRADAC
Affiliations:  American Evaluation Association, Society for Community Research and Action

Using Community Psychology to Help Communities Find Effective Solutions
Dr. Pamela Imm is a community psychologist practitioner who uses her skills in evaluation to help communities find solutions to large scale community issues.
She is affiliated with the Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council (LRADAC), a non-profit agency that provides prevention, intervention and treatment programs to South Carolina citizens. Through this agency, she works as an evaluator with four different community coalitions to help prevent risky behaviors among youth. Her role as an evaluator involves providing strategic direction and assessing the effectiveness of community-based programs. Dr. Imm is also self-employed and works with other coalitions around the country that address violence prevention, underage drinking and youth development and leadership programs. She is a big advocate of doing what works. She serves as a consultant and presents specific evidence-based strategies and programs for community groups and coalitions to consider.

Dr. Imm also conducts research and publishes with her colleagues. These publications include Using the Getting to Outcomes Approach to Help Communities Prevent Underage Drinking (2007) and The Premises is the Premise: Understanding Off-and-On Premises Alcohol Sales Outlets to Improve Environmental Alcohol Prevention Strategies (2011). She and her colleagues received the 2008 American Evaluation Association Award for Outstanding Publication for Getting to Outcomes: Methods and Tools for Self-Assessment and Accountability. A number of health agencies around the nation have adopted this model.

She has a strong interest in integrating research into practice. Her work is disseminated into the community and is available for organizations to use. She is also involved in providing training and technical assistance and continues to study best practices and strategies in providing technical assistance in community settings.

Dr. Imm possesses the necessary skills to work in a variety of settings as an evaluator, a consultant, a researcher and a grant writer. An understanding of how to apply key concepts in psychology (especially community psychology), is an important skill that Dr. Imm has gained through her graduate training and years of experience. She earned her Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology at the University of South Carolina. During graduate school, she gained community psychology practice experience by working on neighborhood projects with her mentors and research lab. The interdisciplinary nature of her graduate training provided mentors across disciplines such as public health. She also gained skills in developing and implementing applied practices that were contextually appropriate and empirically grounded.

As a community psychologist practitioner, Dr. Imm serves in various professional capacities that help to ensure strong, healthy communities. Her commitment to making a positive impact on both a local and national level is demonstrated by the practice of informing the community about what strategies work and how to implement them.

This profile was written by Kyrah Brown, from Wichita State University.  It is part of a series of community psychology practitioner profiles.  If you have a suggestion for future profiles, please email

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Building Interdisciplinary Bridges

Many community psychologists in practice careers work in areas associated with other disciplines, such as public health, social work, or evaluation. We often lose touch with them when they leave SCRA to join organizations more directly relevant to the work they are engaged in. Which leaves the question, how can we re-engage them and maintain their connection with SCRA and community psychology?

One strategy is to build bridges with other professional organizations that will promote maintenance of a community psychology (CP) professional identity. For example, the American Evaluation Association (AEA) has topical interest groups (TIGs), each devoted to specific professional or methodological niches. Last week the AEA board approved a new Community Psychology TIG. All AEA members are allowed to join up to five TIGs at no extra cost. Each TIG develops its own programming for the AEA annual conference.
Why is this important? First, it allows community psychologists an opportunity to network with others with similar academic background and values orientations who are working in the evaluation field. Second, through programming and other events it increases awareness of CP as a discipline among evaluators. Maybe some day we will no longer need to explain what CP is. And, third, it provides us with a common venue to showcase our work to other evaluators, and potential employers or future students.

What can you do for now? First, if you belong to professional associations other than SCRA, look for opportunities to create your own subgroup, or find avenues to bring community psychologists who are part of the organization together and increase awareness of the field among other members. If you are an AEA member, the next time you renew your membership and have the opportunity to check which TIGs you want to join, be sure to check the box next to the Community Psychology TIG. The CP TIG will be holding its first business meeting this fall at the AEA conference in Anaheim, CA. There will be many opportunities to become involved in a meaningful way. Please join us!

Post by:
Susan M. Wolfe

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Delivery Boy

Three times a year, I’m a delivery boy. My job is to deliver the Neighborhood Newsletter to about 100 homes on the streets of my suburban neighborhood near Boston. You might see me going door-to-door and placing newsletters under doormats, wedging them in door handles, or covering them with a small stone so they don’t blow away.

But why is this worth writing about for community psychologists? Because the Neighborhood Newsletter is unusual, in several ways. First is its pure longevity; it’s been published and hand-delivered free of charge for almost 20 years now, usually in eight-page issues, attractively designed and professionally printed. A volunteer network of about 20 neighbors distributes it to every household in our neighborhood of about 2000 people. To do this costs about $2000 a year. And what’s just as unusual is how that money appears – there are no ads, no subscriptions, no memberships, no dues; just voluntary contributions. Neighbors simply send checks, often without prompting.

A printed neighborhood newsletter also seems unusual in this digital day and age, when everyone is online and when people seemingly have more important things to care about than neighborhood life. But most neighbors seem to like and value the Newsletter. Many say so personally; some will write for it; a few even come to planning meetings. The Newsletter has almost died several times; it’s always been a fragile flower; but at this writing it’s still breathing.

But perhaps what’s most unusual is how the Newsletter relates to the nature of the neighborhood. That nature is complex, maybe paradoxical. For example, when doing my route, I don’t run into many people, basically since there aren’t many people to run into. People are inside, or they are away; life on the street is hard to find.

When I do meet someone, though, they are almost always friendly. We’re likely to chat (in academic lingo, we build social capital). I’ve made thousands of deliveries by now, and no one has ever been unpleasant, nor has any one ever acted suspicious of what I was doing, even when lurking around their doorstep and trying to squeeze a newsletter under their front door.

There’s more: most of my neighbors, I know from experience, like our neighborhood. Many have told me it’s close to perfect. On the other hand, most will also tell you that their neighborhood involvement is low to nonexistent. I’ve found as well that they don’t know many of their neighbors, that they don’t hang out with them, and that they’re not particularly motivated to do so. Despite all this, they still seem to value the small strand of connection the Newsletter brings, with stories about interesting neighbors, new arrivals, the housing market, or the occasional neighborhood event.

Draw your own conclusions. Mine are fairly simple: neighbors, and people, need some sense of community. The neighborhood helps provide it. A little goes a long way. Most neighbors don’t expect or seek more, though they’d usually take it when offered to them. But they do need that little bit.

Our economic future (read the headlines) calls for stronger local community life. One of our roles as community psychologists – and as citizens – is to make more offers, to create more opportunities for local connections. In a tiny way, that’s what we deliver with the Neighborhood Newsletter. I hope I’ll be a delivery boy for some while to come.

An online version of the Neighborhood Newsletter is available here.

Guidance on starting a neighborhood newsletter is available here.

Post by:
Bill Berkowitz

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dream Act and Everyday Activism

“Punished for an inherited crime” – that’s how advocates of the Dream Act (officially the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) would describe the approximately 65,000 undocumented, illegal immigrants who graduate from our high schools in the United States every year.

The Dream Act, which was reintroduced on May 11th, 2011 in the Senate (S. 952), would grant certain immigrant students who have grown up in the US (those brought here before they were 15 years old)  “conditional permanent residence” for up to six years after their high school graduation, upon acceptance to college or enrollment in the military. Further, it would carve a pathway for them to become permanent citizens if they graduate from college or complete their military service.  Hopefully it would also decrease barriers to higher education through repealing the federal fine levied on States that give in-state tuition to individuals who graduated from high school in the state, regardless of immigration status. (It would not force States to provide in-state tuition to illegal residents) and making certain types of federal student loans available to these students.

Activist Art by Carol Belisia

The Dream Act would serve as an enabler for these students – allowing them to have some control over their future. As an undocumented, illegal immigrant (who, by the way, did not make the choice to immigrate here for his or herself) the stress of being caught and the lack of opportunities after high school can be debilitating. (Besides, if they get caught and deported, where will they be sent to? Most of them grew up in the States).

Independent of where you stand on immigration issues, this act is in clear alignment with Community Psychology’s focus on empowerment and America’s shared values of opportunity, education, and achievement.

            From (Community Psychology's web home)
                       Our members are committed to promoting health and empowerment and
                          preventing problems in communities, groups, and individuals.

So how do you get involved? SCRA could get involved as an organization, at the policy level. Perhaps (they would be in good company; here’s the list of organizations who endorsed the original 2005 act; notice there are no psychology organizations included). But what about individual, practicing community psychologists (and community psychology fans/friends), who may or may not work in immigration issues? What can we do?

The first step, I believe, is to take the capital “P” off of this issue. Yes, it’s political – but it doesn’t help to think about it in terms of Democrats v. Republicans, or in terms of larger immigration issues (it's actually a bi-partisan bill).  Rather, reframe it as a question of values, and focus on this specific population - high school graduates.  (Opponents of the Dream Act often claim that they are against "amnesty" for illegal immigrants; technically the Dream Act doesn't give out amnesty, but let's not get caught up in details).
Second, advocate. Now, I don’t mean write letters, march on Washington or organize protests. While there is a place for all of those things, they might not be feasible for you right now. I understand that. Advocacy (a core competency for Community Psychology Practice) can be as simple as increasing awareness of an issue – influencing how someone thinks about an issue. Advocacy involves giving support to an idea/concept, and acting on behalf of someone else.

So maybe your neighbor’s position on immigration is “send them all home.” Or your University is voting to expel all undocumented students. Without taking a big “P” political position which will likely make people defensive, we can advocate for facts, an ecological understanding of the issue, and rational, non-ideological thinking – and hopefully influence decision-making processes as well as individual attitudes.

In the age of media misinformation, we have the responsibility to be advocates for the truth in our communities. In the context of growing inequalities, we have the professional responsibility to work for social justice.

Whether it’s about this issue or another one, what “Everyday Advocacy” methods have you tried? Have they been successful?

For further information on the Dream Act, I suggest the following resources:

Post by Sharon Hakim
Wichita State University