This paper presents an operational framework and a research base for creating sustainable community-based organizations in diverse rural communities. Special attention is given to criteria used to assess six input variables in creating sustainable community-based development organizations: (1) stimulation through knowledge, (2) responsible freedom, (3) social and psychological support, (4) focus on sustainability, (5) commitment to "the new," and (6) self-insight. In addition, the authors suggest methods used to assess seven outcome indicators of sustainable community-based development organizations: identity with the community, sense of belonging, community solidarity, community pride, sense of achievement, sense o f fulfillment, and sustainable and on-going projects. These models succeeded as expected in the diverse populations of the Mississippi Delta where the majority residents are African American. The authors suggest that the models and methods used in this paper will be effective in helping to create social change by integrating previously segregated organizations in urban and rural communities.
Key-words: community development, community-based development organizations, sustainable organizations, diverse communities, Likert scale
Description of the Project
In 1994, the senior investigator--together with regional stakeholders in private and public sectors and the local university--led initial outreach meetings to organize Mississippi Delta communities, predominantly of African American descent with a minority Anglo American population. Local residents had opportunities to participate in initiatives serving local communities and bringing together agencies traditionally segregated by ethnic group. Widespread publicity in the media and faith-based groups initially drew 750 participants who attended orientation sessions, generated ideas, set goals, and implemented action projects of their choosing. They helped form planning committees and set up a program task force. Participants were invited to list the strengths of their communities and rank their desires to set up community improvement projects. Drawing primarily on the ensuing data, the authors helped community-based development organizations set priorities in seeking grants and funding projects once grants were received.
In 1995, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation awarded Delta State University a major grant, which funded development projects for seven years. The authors presented an outline to help community-based organizations apply for funds for community improvement projects, emphasizing exclusively that only residents manage their projects. The authors propose that the models and methods described in this paper can help to establish community-based organizations and to integrate community organizations in segregated urban and rural populations.
The paper describes research-based models and research methods the authors used to create, implement, and evaluate the sustainability of community-based development efforts and organizations in three diverse Mississippi Delta communities. In 2000, the largely African American population of the three communities included 22,000, 3,437, and 2,312 persons respectively (U.S. Census, 2000). In the largest town, 65 percent ofthe residents was African American, and in the two smaller communities more than 80 percent was African American. Anglo-American or Caucasian residents comprised from 30 to 20 percent of the remaining residents in the three communities. Less than one percent of the residents in any community was Latino/a, Hispanic, or other ethnic group (Robinson & Meikle, 2007).
Working together as partners was the first step in building an integrated community of diverse populations. As Robinson and Preston found (1974, 1976), unprecedented interracial contact is likely to yield favorable results when participants engage in voluntary contact situations and interact as they pursue common or collective goals in cooperative relationships with institutional support. The principal investigator's earlier research indicates that personal association among persons of diverse racial groups is most effective in reducing hostility and increasing understanding when the focus of interaction remains on a common interest goal or task, such as improving the community--rather than upon inter-racial association itself (Robinson & Preston, 1974, 1976). Thus, in this program, the investigators advocated that "community development is everybody's business," and we did our best to engage residents from all "walks of life." The goal of this research was to determine if sustainable community-based organizations were created in communities with diverse populations. The paper describes operational and theoretical frameworks that the Delta Partners' Initiative (DPI) used in its demonstration program for community development. From 1994 to 2002, the investigators used feedback systems and on-going evaluation of research activities, consistent with the model in Figure 1. The investigators completed the research for the final evaluation from 2002 to 2005.
Methods of Project Development
With the Kellogg Foundation seed grant to fund the DPI program planning process, the principal investigator and the President of Delta State University organized a biracial 22-member Regional Advisory Council comprised of stakeholders from the private and public sectors interested in developing local communities throughout the Mississippi Delta region. DPI organized local committees and formed temporary task forces that generated ideas, set goals, and gave responsibility to participants to implement their action projects. Radio, television, newspapers, and other print media, e.g., posters displayed in post offices and faith-based organizations, broadcast invitations to residents to attend orientation meetings. "In 1994, more than 750 Delta residents in 13 communities participated in orientation sessions," (Robinson & Meikle, 2007, p. 3). Participants completed a simple form indicating the strengths of their communities and their desire to establish projects to improve local communities. The investigators used the ensuing data to set priorities for the full proposal submitted to the Kellogg Foundation in 1995. As Chavez suggests, the investigators sought to "include the efforts and 'voices' of all citizens in our understanding of community and development initiatives" (2005, p. 333).
As a second round of orientation meetings was held in each of the Delta communities, the principal investigator presented a simple outline for local organizations to use to prepare requests for funding improvement projects in their community. Community organizations used the proposal outline to develop written plans for improving local community projects. A strategic component of the proposals to improve community projects stipulated that local residents, not outsiders, decide what residents would do to improve their community. Community-based organizations submitted applications to the University Advisory Council for DPI appointed by the University President. Three proposals were approved.
The research team started small. Initially, each community-based development organization received a grant of $15,000 per year to support its community improvement projects. "The only formal reporting requirements from the university were that grantees: (1) provide a cash or in-kind match that equaled or exceeded the $15,000 grant per year; and, (2) submit a quarterly financial report that documented the expenditure of project funds. This last regulation was imposed by the State of Mississippi and it caused no problems" (Robinson & Meikle, 2007, p. 6).
From 1995 to 2002, local leaders recruited an AmeriCorps Community Educator to serve full time in each community-based organization. The DPI Project Director and a full-time Program Leader for Community and Economic Development supported the work of the three Community Educators by providing process and technical assistance to community groups. By long-standing custom, in two of the three communities, formal development organizations were strictly segregated by race.
Supported by DPI, African American and Anglo American residents in the two smallest communities established formal policies and procedures encouraging members to integrate and collaborate for the first time. Residents in one community decided to integrate the Chamber of Commerce, historically an exclusive organization reserved only for Anglo Americans. The Chamber disbanded its funds and transferred more than $3,000 to a newly integrated community-based organization. In another community with no history of biracial collaboration, residents created a new community-based organization whose charter stipulated that membership, officers, and board representatives would be racially inclusive.
The Conceptual Model
Analyzing three types of variables, the investigators began to develop, implement, and conduct formative, on-going, and summative evaluation research. Operational definitions of these variables appear later in the article.
Independent Variables. These variables were based on pre-existing economic, social, and cultural factors, as well as contextual variables.
Intervening Variables. These variables influenced and shaped the behavior of residents, leaders, and boards of directors who worked in community-based organizations as participants developed, implemented, and evaluated programs. Significant intervening variables …