Joe is a frequent contributor to the Abundant Community Blog 

“We change our lives when we change our thinking. These pages are a way to share observations, comments, reflections and links to interesting viewpoints. We offer our own thoughts here and welcome ideas from our wider community. We are especially interested in ideas on the margin, thoughts that may be a little edgy, but interesting and worth discussing. We want this to be a place to give voice to people that we might otherwise not know about.”

Click here to read some of Joe’s recent posts on this blog.

Joe Erpenbeck Interview at Community: Programs and Policies – 6/17/2015

B.C. Social Services Org Turns to Neighbourhoods – 5/13/2013

One day Joe Erpenbeck helped connect a man with a disability who has a passion for baseball with a semi-professional league.

It flourished into a relationship with the team where the fan was helping prep the bullpen and the grounds before a ball game. More importantly, it created an opportunity and space for everyone to collectively share their love of the game.

The reciprocal relationship between the man and the team is an example of asset-based community development (ABCD) in action.

PosAbilities, a Burnaby, B.C.-based organization serving people who have a development disability, is digging deeper into utilizing ABCD with the addition of Joe Erpenbeck to its team.

Joe, director of ABCD, initially started working with posAbilities about a year ago. He provided a series of consultations with staff and people the agency supports about what ABCD means.

“There seemed to be a whole lot of energy and excitement around it,” Joe says.

“The main thrust is looking at how posAbilities and the people we serve can better partner with the community and how we can support people to be more active citizens based on their gifts.”

ABCD involves looking at individuals and neighbourhoods through an asset-based lens. It focuses on celebrating strengths and gifts, nurturing those assets and sharing them with others. It’s also about tapping into the potential of the welcoming, hospitable neighbourhoods that already exist in the community.

Joe’s work will also expand beyond posAbilities’ doors and into the broader developmental services sector in B.C. in the future.

Next week he is meeting with a number of partner agencies to see how rolling out ABCD teaching will unfold. Joe is clearly passionate about the potential it has for great things in the developmental services sector.

“It does so much to make our communities more inclusive, safer and more vibrant for everyone. When people can share their gifts, it transforms everything.”

Activity underway to bring asset-based community development approach to Vancouver communities – 5/13/2013

The challenge with a paradigm-shifting dialogue like the one in Vancouver last week on community building is sustaining the energy afterwards, posAbilities program director Gord Tulloch notes.

“I loved the energy in the room,” Gord tells posAbilities Today, reflecting on the Nov. 26-27 sessions that convened about 85 people.

While conversations on related challenges like systemic barriers and organizational management can often be soulless in some ways, this dialogue on creating communities of hospitality, caring and welcoming had a distinct vibrancy and life, he says.

Gord and posAbilities were instrumental in bringing Asset-based Community Development Institute fellow Joe Erpenbeck, who has worked with people who have a disability, to join the gathering spearheaded by the University of British Columbia Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship. The intent was to “thicken the dialogue” and get some real traction around community building in Vancouver.

But, as with any transformative or paradigm-shifting experience, returning to one’s regular routine often means the “sluicing-off” of the new.

“Our systems start creating all those demands on you before you know it, and it’s such a prevailing influence; it’s really hard to resist,” Gord says.

He’s hoping organizations that were represented by a number of people might be able to catalyze some of the energy as they work as a group, and that the leadership present in the room might take ownership for drafting some new directions.

Effort is also underway to develop a resource or institute to work long-term with a number of organizations in the Vancouver area to help them develop their capacity to have new conversations with their neighbourhoods and promote connections between people.

The intent is not to “get a person with a disability accepted in a neighbourhood,” Gord says, but to build the capacity of community and neighbours to care for each other, so that they become places of hospitality.

Recognizing the challenges of leading the way in this work through an agency like posAbilities, which has been engineered for service delivery for people with developmental disabilities, Gord says the hope and ultimate intent is to create a separate institute for the Metro Vancouver area and beyond dedicated to this mission — developing healthy, resilient, vibrant, caring, co-operative neighbourhoods.

In the short-term however, organizations like posAbilities are looking for ways to transform their conversations and relationships with the community so that everyone is better connected, including the people they support.

Article reprinted from PosAbilities Today.

Vancouver re-discovering the Power of Neighbourhoods – 5/13/2013

Creating a healthy and caring society will require everyone’s involvement, not just government or professional supports. This was the premise of a two-day event that took place this week in Vancouver convening about 85 people.

The University of British Columbia Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship offers a series of dialogues on creating community, and for this particular event posAbilities was co-host, bringing in Joe Erpenbeck, whose focus is to build community specifically around people who have a disability.

“We thought it might be a grand idea to attach a second day to this particular dialogue and to focus on engaging communityso to deepen the conversation around how to network with neighbours,”posAbilities director of community engagement Monique Nelson tells posAbilities Today.

Co-hosting the event aligns with posAbilities’ growing recognition that conversations need to be had with people outside of the community living sector as well, if the lives of the people it serves are going to be truly enriched.

Co-hosts Community Living BC and the university centre also indicate a recognition that communities and neighbourhoods need to be engaged in solutions to social issues.

Monique notes she and her colleagues who attended the Nov. 26-27 sessions will be sharing the ideas and stories gleaned in their annual program planning sessions, where they meet with staff, families and persons served to consider new activities to help build relationships in communities.

One story told by University of British Columbia School of Social Work faculty member Pilar Riano-Alcala was especially powerful, she recalls.

Pilar described a village she came across working in Colombia, South America, where all the men had been massacred in civil conflict.

The women and children had been moved into the city but that wasn’t the place where they could become resilient as farmers, the lifestyle they had always known, so a woman leader named Maria negotiated with the government to get a piece of land again. The 15 families took up working the completely unserviced area, creating farms and livelihoods for themselves, arranging schooling for their children and essentially changing the whole course of their lives and generations to come.

Monique notes the drivers in that kind of development include a capacity to aspire to something different.

It’s also a story of reconstituting webs of relations by drawing on cultural and symbolic resources such as kinship, land and solidarity and creating community in the process.

Pilar also talked about the importance of storytelling — how to transmit meaning, how to sustain life and educate and how to create a sense of agency or the capacity to act through storytelling.

Other presentations, including one on housing, also referenced the importance of having the capacity to aspire and act and that this exists within ourselves and our communities when we draw on the strengths of our relationships, Monique notes.

A report on urban isolation from the Vancouver Foundation also underscored that when that people aren’t connected at the neighbourhood level they’re not giving back and the whole neighbourhood is weakened as a result.

The presentation on Day 2 facilitated by Joe who, is a fellow of the Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago, considered how to address this concern of building community at the neighbourhood level.

Joe’s premise, and that of ABCD, is that this happens through considering people’s interests, assets and gifts and finding associations or places of hospitality within community where people can contribute those gifts and meet the community’s needs.

Asset-based community development works from the recognition that:
— Everyone has gifts
— Gifts are valued in the community
— Friends and activities give meaning to our lives
— There are many hospitable places in our neighbourhoods.

“I see this conference giving us ideas and stories to share to help precipitate those same kinds of changes in the communities where we offer services to help enrich the lives of persons served, but also find ways for them to contribute so that their communities are strengthened from receiving their gifts,” says Monique.

“Our role is more and more to be the connectors, to facilitate that kind of good stuff to happen — reciprocal relationships in the community.

“I think really that’s what it’s all about, is for us to find a way to do that, to live these values and make a difference in people’s lives by providing opportunities for them to create these connections, or, in many cases, to discover connections and gifts in the community.”

ABCD is at the centre of a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development.

Joe’s work was featured in Peter Block’s book, Community, The Power of Belonging and in John McKnight and Peter’s latest book, The Abundant Community.

Reprinted from PosAbilities Today.