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Two-Day Workshop Will Focus On Building Communities

John Kretzmann has a different way of looking at neighborhoods: He lists the things they do right, rather than dwelling on their problems.

The national speaker and author urges people to tap their talents, and use them to strengthen their neighborhoods from within. Kretzmann will be in Spokane Friday and Saturday to present a workshop on “Building Communities from the Inside Out: Mobilizing Your Neighborhood.” Due to space limitations, sponsors had to cap workshop attendance at 85 people and already they have a waiting list more than 70 names long.

Several Valley residents will be there, and hope to use what they learn to improve their own neighborhoods.

Some say Kretzmann’s philosophy of tapping individual talents is happening already.

One example is the Spokane Valley Parent Support Group, part of the Parents Coalition. Its members provide emotional support to each other - but that’s just the start. “If a parent needs a lock on their door, we find someone in the group who can (install) it,” said coordinator Debbi Bersagel.

Members also donate meals and car rides. They open their spare bedrooms to those in need. Those with a special expertise tutor members’ children.

“It makes a difference in all of our lives,” said Brigitte Benson, president of the 5,000-member coalition. “If someone in your community needs something, you just do it.”

Benson will be a featured workshop speaker on Saturday. She’ll talk about how the West Valley School District is using support teams to help struggling students and their families.

Counselors, friends and family members agree to meet every other week, and try to help the family overcome its problems. The goal, she said, is to nurture the family’s strengths.

James Pippard, a professor of social work at Eastern Washington University, is a fan of Kretzmann’s approach.

“Strong neighborhoods help strengthen families, and vice-versa,” Pippard said. “It starts one person at a time, building relationships. It doesn’t mean big meetings all the time.”

It may be as easy as asking a neighbor to take on a task, then saying “thank you” when it’s done. Other steps include incorporating schools, churches and other community gathering places into the process and redefining their rolls.

For example, asked Pippard, why do senior citizens need their own hot lunch program? What if they ate hot lunch instead at a neighborhood school with students?

The positive approach is not a typical one, Pippard said.

“In the past, more problems have meant more money for communities - for programs, to fight crime - so community leaders were used to looking at the negatives of their neighborhoods instead of its assets,” he said.

But Kretzmann helps focus neighborhoods on the positive, he said, and shows them how to help themselves.

Sponsors of the workshop include EWU, the Northwest Foundation, Metropolitan Mortgage Foundation and the City of Spokane Office of Neighborhood Services.

, DataTimes