Build community based on assets, not needs

Guest blog by:

Angela Bomgaars, Extreme Community Makeover Director

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “community development”?  Through the social work classes I took in college and through other organizations and experiences I have been connected with over the years, I thought community development was about people coming together to improve a community.  While that is true to some extent, I am coming to the realization that there is a lot more to what defines a “community” and how it gets “developed.”

Through my role as Director of the Extreme Community Makeover (ECM), I have been given front row seats into four Denver neighborhoods – Globeville, La Alma/Lincoln Park, Villa Park, and West Colfax.  ECM mobilizes individuals and groups of volunteers from churches, companies, neighborhood groups, schools, and other groups, to adopt a block at a time in order to partner with these communities to complete exterior home improvement projects at their homes such as fixing fences, graffiti removal, landscaping, painting, trimming bushes, yard work, etc.  Projects are identified through a door to door survey process where community residents are asked about the needs at their homes.  From there, the group determines how they can work together with the home owner in order to complete the project.  The goal is for community residents, neighbors, and volunteers to come together to make a difference in the communities where ECM works.

Because ECM has connected with a significant number of folks age 55 and over, we were able to receive a grant from the Colorado Compassion Initiative facilitated by JVA Consulting.  Through a conversation with a colleague also receiving this grant from another organization, I learned of a community development model called Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD).  Upon further investigation, I discovered that the ABCD Institute ( was hosting a conference in Chicago.  Through funding made possible because of this grant, I was able to attend this conference a few weeks ago and it deepened my thoughts about what “community development” really entails.

One of the main premises of the ABCD model is to approach community development through a strengths-based perspective, primarily through looking at the assets in a community, not just the needs.  Labels are often projected onto communities based on their needs such as low income, high risk, and marginalized, for just a few examples.  Try this yourself – what groups or individuals do you work with and how are they typically categorized – pregnant teens, low socioeconomic status, etc.?  Take just a minute to jot down a list.  Now, shift your thinking to focus on the assets of these groups or individuals.  Even though a teen might be pregnant, being a pregnant teen doesn’t define who she is.  She has interests, skills, and talents that she has spent a lifetime building.  Often times, these assets are just waiting to be discovered.  Take another minute to look at your first list and think of the people represented there and how you can tap into the assets they have to offer to their community.


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2 Responses to Build community based on assets, not needs

  1. jvaconsulting says:

    Angela, thanks for your post! It’s wonderful to hear from our grantees…

    The assets based approach is exactly what JVA is trying to further in all of our boomer work: Changing the view of older people in the community from being drains on resources to being tremendous resources—assets— in addressing community issues? Or, as I like to say, transforming the view of the baby boomer generation from a silver tsunami to a silver mine.


  2. Pingback: Reflections on 2009 and the year ahead « JVA's Nonprofit Street

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