Jenny Glass and Antoine Thomas: The Rosewood Initiative

Designing with Community Strengths

Website: Rosewood Initiative

Designing with community strengths is a radically different way of approaching neighborhood revitalization through uncovering and supporting existing assets. It is an unpredictable journey led by community members and partners working together to define a new future for themselves. By building from the talents, skills and ideas already present in a community, we can do meaningful development work that has the potential for lasting social change. This requires us to shift our thinking from a model of scarcity to abundance, to look at a struggling community and ask, "What does this place already have?" instead of "What does this community need?"

In Rosewood, this journey started with innovative community policing work in one of the highest crime neighborhoods in the Portland metro region. Community organizing began three years ago through identifying leaders, assets and concerns. At the same time, we built, and continue to build, a robust network of support in City, County and State government bureaus, along with partnerships in nonprofits, social services, faith organizations and private sector. By aligning these resources we can maximize the benefit for the Rosewood community and empower local leaders to affect change in their own neighborhood. In the past three years, we've held countless BBQs, car washes, scrap metal drives, youth nights, carnivals, rummage sales, holiday parties and bingo nights that have provided casual opportunities for neighbors to engage in their own community in a positive way. These activities are always driven by talent and energy that already exists in the community. This summer we completed our first capital project, a powerful 650 sq. ft. community mural, designed by Rosewood artist Antwoine Thomas and painted by the Rosewood community. Our next project is the build-out of our storefront community space, Rosewood Cafe, which will serve as a neighborhood hub for more activities, projects, classes and idea sharing.

The challenge of this work is always how to keep the momentum going in an unstable and often chaotic environment, providing enough encouragement, hope and positive opportunities to heal the neighborhood from the inside out.