Thunder Valley CDC
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
Developing Individual Education Plans and Individual Success plans were hugely instrumental to making progress. The individuals in the program were able to making substantial progress in their personal lives through completing their first college class to applying for their first job. This was important because as we finish up our first cohort, there are now more young people in the community who have the skills to build a house, control their finances, work, and get an education. The plans allow us to track and evaluate their progress and allowed the participants to think about and plan for what success meant to them.
Another key activity was to work one on one with Pine Ridge families who want to learn about homeownership. This was key to the development of a potential homeownership pool for us to work with as clients for the homes built on the Regenerative Community. By working one on one with families we were also able to support our partner organizations by referring the families we work with to their services such as IDA accounts, financial education classes, savings accounts. Also, we were able to teach financial education to families across the reservation which is key to improving access to financing for families living here.
Hosting a design charette was another key element to our work. This is key to our work around empowerment. Families in this community need to have buy in to projects and new ideas such as homeownership. By encouraging the participation of families in the design process, it encourages them to have ownership over building this community and becoming a homeowner. Many people here have never been asked what they want for their communities and homes so this was a very powerful way to encourage people to take the leap to applying for a mortgage or learning more about financial education.
Key lessons learned
The key lesson that we learned this year was that changing societal mindsets as well as the ability for organizations to partner together takes time and creativity. Creating structure for our workforce development participants was important to their success in the program. By offering a holistic program for them that was focused on their idea of success, we were able to see incredible growth with the participants. They became more confident and willing to participate throughout the program. With our partner organization we learned that we need to be actively in keeping them engaged. Because each organization is so busy in creating change it is important to convene everyone monthly to keep on the same page of creating a homeownership system on the Reservation. We also learned that relationships and trust are key to building the capacity of young people on the reservation and to creating a pool of qualified homeowners. Relationships are the key in changing societal mindsets and the ability of organizations to partner.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
The most important element of the community innovation process is being collaborative. We recognized that to provide the services need for our participants to be successful in their individual education plans and their individual success plans, we needed to be collaborative with other organizations throughout the reservation. This includes our partners around housing like Lakota Funds, Mazaska, Partnership for housing, and the Lakota Federal Credit union, but it also included some unexpected partners like the alcohol treatment center to make sure they were getting the services they needed. Also being collaborative allowed up to come up with new ideas and be flexible if our plans were not going perfectly in the way that we planned.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
Another key element is flexibility. We recognize that while our organization has a clear mission and vision as well as a plan to bring about the systemic change needed in our community, we need to be flexible to how to achieve this plan. There were times that the program did not go as plan such as a participant dropping out of the program, or the partners organizations not having the technological skills needed to use a shared intake form yet. By remaining flexible we are able to find new paths to achieving the same mission and goals we set out to achieve. An example of this is that while we do not yet have a shared online intake form between all the partners working on homeownership efforts, we do have better communication and collaboration through referrals of clients that we work with. This has increased the potential number of homeowners on the Reservation which is one of our goals. We have been able to increase partnership and collaboration between local organizations.
Understanding the problem
The past year has led to two points of clarity about the need we defined in our application, One is the underlying need for infrastructure development so that the housing stock can increase. We think our research and work around planned community developments is important to increasing infrastructure across the reservation. The other point of clarity is that while we are preparing the workforce we are also preparing them to become homeowners, at the beginning of the grant period we viewed them as two different pools. However, down the road the young adults we are preparing for the workforce have a very real possibility to become homeowners because of the skills they have gained to find employment and have the financial understanding to own a home.
If you could do it all over again...
The advice that we would have liked to know at the beginning of the grant period is to spend more time at the beginning addressing fear of change (especially fear of homeownership). Our assumption at the beginning of the grant period was that everyone is ready to embrace changes for our community. Because we have such high levels of poverty and the comprehensive issues that come with poverty, we thought that people would jump at the opportunity for a change like homeownership. The reality is that while people want change, there is an underlying fear to take a leap to something new. Towards to end of the grant period we have begun to address this, but it would have been really important to know at the beginning to help qualify more homeowners. Ways that we can address this fear are through showing examples of success, education about how homeownership can change a community, break down the homeownership process into simple achievable steps. We plan to spend more time doing this in year two of the grant period with our partners.