Ron Dwyer-Voss talks Asset-Based Community Development at EPL board meeting

Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster Street. The community center, located in the 5th ward, was the host to Wednesday’s EPL board meeting.

Courtesy: City of Evanston

Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster Street. The community center, located in the 5th ward, was the host to Wednesday’s EPL board meeting.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Summer Managing Editor

Ron Dwyer-Voss believes a focus on assets, rather than needs, is the best way to foster community-driven change.

Dwyer-Voss, the owner and founder of Pacific Community Solutions, gave a guest presentation at Wednesday’s Evanston Public Library board meeting, held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. He outlined the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) model for change and facilitated a group discussion on how the EPL can use the approach to reach Evanston’s 5th, 8th and 9th wards.

Between 25 and 30 people attended the meeting, most of whom were either library staff or on the EPL board of trustees.

“The library wants to… make sure that it’s fully available to every part of the community,” Dwyer-Voss said. “They know the old conversation about, “how do we get more money to build more branches” is somewhat futile and doesn’t acknowledge any of the strengths of the community, so a new conversation about how to build a strong library on a strong community is more productive.”

The ABCD Institute was established at Northwestern in 1988 by John McKnight (Communication ‘53) and John Kretzmann, who were both working in the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research. McKnight and Kretzmann trained and mentored Dwyer-Voss, who has been working with the ABCD model since 1991.

Dwyer-Voss explained the six categories where assets are found — individuals, associations, institutions, physical places, exchange and culture — and gave examples for each. The meeting’s attendees then split up into groups to brainstorm Evanston-specific examples from each category.

Organizations like Youth & Opportunity United and the Evanston Community Foundation, as well as Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Northwestern University, fall under the category of institutions. The Democratic Party of Evanston, Woman’s Club of Evanston and Dear Evanston are considered associations. Events such as the Evanston 4th of July Parade fall under culture.

“(The presentation) helped change my perspective,” said Shawn Iles, the president of the EPL board. “If you look at all the positive things that a neighborhood has, and all the positive assets, that’s a different perspective. That’s much more positive and much more collaborative. I found it very valuable.”

The EPL board has already been moving some of its monthly meetings away from the Downtown Branch to reach other areas of the city. The meetings over the past three months took place at the Chicago Avenue/Main Street Branch, the Robert Crown Community Center and the North Branch on Central Street.

Iles said it is valuable for the library to meet people in their space rather than to expect community members to come to the library.

“It’s not a question of if we’re a better resource, it’s how we become a better resource,” said Karen Danczak Lyons, the EPL’s director. “We’re in the 5th ward, we’re serving the 5th ward, but we don’t have a space. Does it always have to be a space that we own, or is it a service that we provide?”

The EPL used to have a West Branch in the 5th Ward, but it closed in 1981 after just six years due to low circulation. According to the Evanstonian, the student newspaper at Evanston Township High School, the 5th ward is one of the more diverse in Evanston — more than 60 percent of its residents are people of color, compared to an overall 40 percent for the city.

As of the 2010 U.S. Census, white residents made up 38.8 percent of the ward’s population, while 41.5 percent identified as black. The EPL’s 2018 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Needs Assessment called for “creating an innovative approach to space and services in the 5th Ward.”

“I think (the library) will become stronger and achieve more of their racial equity and inclusion goals by connecting with community assets and with residents and their associations around a conversation of mutual interest,” Dwyer-Voss said. “Where the library can find a way to either host or support or enhance existing strengths in those communities, the stronger the relationship will be.”

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