Models and Methods for Creating Sustainable Community-Based Development Organizations in Diverse Communities

Article excerpt

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. …