Partnership in Pueblo Nuevo: The First Steps

In our last community meeting, there was a pause – a familiar pause, characteristic of most gatherings here. A man walks into the meeting late, having returned after a day of work. The meeting stops as everyone turns to greet him – each offering their individual hello, handshake or kiss on the cheek -  welcoming him to the space and to the conversation. Once he is settled, and voices are quiet once again, we continue.

We’re in the middle of a Needs and Assets Assessment in the Pueblo Nuevo, the beginning of our partnership here. It is through this process that we will learn with and about the community, discussing community initiatives, areas of need and strength, exploring areas for growth.  This is the foundation of our work – starting with listening, learning, and building relationships. From here, we grow together in our partnerships and in our projects.

This process consists of household interviews, listening to the experiences of each family, discussing their views on the strengths and needs of their community, and hearing how they would like to see the community grow. As we have walked to each home, families have welcomed us through their door, offering an embrace, their seats, and cups of coffee. They patiently answer questions about their family,  such as ages, school enrollment, and employment.  They openly speak about their experiences in the community, what they want for their children, their identity as members of Pueblo Nuevo. It has been profound and powerful to experience the trust and openness with which families share these pieces of their lives with us.

Also a part of this learning process is a series of focus groups and community wide conversations. The meetings are designed to discuss topics that the community has identified as central to their growth– topics such as employment or goals for the neighborhood association. These conversations, fueled by thought provoking questions, multiple viewpoints, and common desire to find solutions, deepen our understanding of the obstacles faced here in the community and the steps taken to address them.  In these meetings, natural leaders emerge, more voices are heard, and everyone is welcomed to the space, just as we were welcomed into their homes.

But the most beautiful moments in this process, I believe, are those moments not captured in our meeting minutes, the moments that will not appear in our interview notes. It is the pause in the meeting, because everyone wants to greet the man who just arrived.  It is the pause in the interview, holding the hands of a mother during a tearful moment. It is dropping the pen because we are all laughing too hard to speak, let alone write. This is what our learning looks like, this is what our partnership looks like. Through the meetings, through the interviews, through the planning – coffee is shared, hands are held, laughter is heard, pauses are welcomed.            


Anna Balakrishnan