Context and Approach
Over the last few decades, shifts in the demographics of Costa Mesa have generated challenging social issues, such as a lack of adequate housing, economic poverty of the residents, and pressures on the city’s education system. Thirty-six percent of Costa Mesa residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, and in Mika’s target neighborhoods that number is nearly 100%. Of the Latino households in Costa Mesa, 76.5% had family income categorized as low, very low, or extremely low by the 2010 HUD Income Limits (2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate). In 4 out of the 5 local elementary schools where Mika’s neighborhood students attend, at least 98% of students are eligible for free or reduced school lunches (California Department of Education DataQuest). Other challenges our neighbors face include language barriers and dependency on local social services. Among people five years and older living in Costa Mesa, 39% spoke a language other than English—74% of which spoke Spanish (2005-2009 ACS 5-Year Estimates). Of the five elementary schools in Mika’s target neighborhoods, 72.8% of students attending these schools are considered English Language Learners. On average, only 36% of English Learners are at or above proficiency level in English-language arts, and only 48% are at or above proficiency level in mathematics. This creates challenges in the classroom, in parent/teacher relationships and ultimately in the academic success of the students.
In addition to these economic disparities that are clearly present in our target neighborhoods, there is also an evident breakdown in healthy relationships within the neighborhoods. We believe that this breakdown contributes to the systemic poverty present in our city. In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert found that low-income persons describe their condition not only in terms of economic and material need, but also in terms of feelings of personal worthlessness, shame, isolation, psychological depression and social despair (Corbett and Fikkert 53). These feelings manifest themselves in broken marriages and families, social isolation, distrust among neighbors and distrust of authorities. According to Bryant Myers, in his book Walking with the Poor, poverty results from “relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable” (Myers 86). These broken relationships help explain why many of the problems associated with low-income neighborhoods—violence, drug use, high school drop-out rates and unemployment—are perpetual even though services and resources have been present for many years.
Organizations exist in our community to provide services that address economic needs and basic relief to the poor; Mika’s unique work is to build whole relationships through leadership development and community building. Mika engages neighbors in an empowering process in order to address the broken relationships that prevent the poor from making decisions necessary to overcome poverty.
This relational understanding of poverty has shaped the way we choose to respond to the needs in our community. When poverty is defined solely in economic terms, solutions tend to be short term fixes to a larger problem and may lead to dependency on social services. According to Myers, the “unspoken assumption is that when the missing things are provided, the poor will no longer be poor” (Myers 65). Relief-based approaches, which provide temporary aid to reduce immediate suffering, can perpetuate the cycle of poverty that is found in cities across the country. This may lead to charity fatigue between the giver and receiver and it tends to overlook the transformative potential already existing within a community. We approach the issues of poverty in Costa Mesa with the recognition that neighbors who struggle economically are also experiencing relational poverty. We seek to address these issues with solutions that not only acknowledge the economic needs of our neighbors but also seek to reconcile relationships with one another, the community and God.
Mika uses an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach to accomplish our mission. This method of community development seeks to maximize a neighborhood’s existing resources. It is based on the belief that neighborhoods have a diverse mix of talented, passionate, and driven residents, capable of creating vibrant communities. These skilled residents, however, often lack the resources and connections to realize their potential. ABCD is an alternative to a more traditional needs-based approach, and rather than focusing on their deficiencies, this approach brings to light the many opportunities present in these low-income communities.
Reflecting the principles of ABCD, Mika has developed a unique Community Building Process consisting of a six-step framework for use in each of our target communities. These six steps are Selecting a Neighborhood, Developing Partnerships, Connecting, Organizing, Capacity Building, and Linking. Mika reaches out to community members and facilitates a dialogue centered on strengthening the social networks within the community, while at the same time developing group and individual problem-solving and leadership skills. Mika organizes neighbors into Neighborhood Action Committees (NAC), and provides a platform for these committees to articulate a shared vision for their community, identify potential stumbling blocks to reaching that vision, brainstorm solutions and implement results-driven strategies.
Mika’s Community Building process ensures that the residents have ownership of the progress achieved in their communities. Mika also serves as a bridge between the neighbors and resources outside their communities. As neighbors grow in their understanding of the resources available to them in the larger community, they are able to link with partners who will help them reach their shared vision. Mika serves as a motivating force that challenges and works alongside residents to create a healthy community. Our goal is to develop neighborhood leaders, enhancing their capacity to effectively identify, design, fund, manage and evaluate projects and initiatives that support the shared goals of their communities.
Mika’s core strategies are leadership development and community building.
Healthy communities are built and sustained through systems that invite and foster participation by the neighbors within the community. Thus, Mika’s method for neighborhood development is to identify and support the leaders already living and working within the neighborhoods. Mika carries out this strategy through its Community Coach and Coordinators. Their commitment is wholly focused on building relationships to develop, train and equip existing leaders who have emerged from the communities and taken it upon themselves to initiate transformation and growth in their neighborhoods. They identify potential leaders, young and old, who have the desire and potential to bring change to their communities.
We work to build the capacity of these leaders to identify, design, fund and manage initiatives that positively impact their neighborhoods.
For Mika, a developed leader:
- Pursues a life of obedience to God
- Maintains healthy relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation
- Engages in learning opportunities to increase his or her leadership capacity
- Leads positive change in his or her community
Mika designed a unique framework for use in our communities. This framework consists of six steps: Selecting a Neighborhood, Developing Partnerships, Connecting, Organizing, Capacity Building, and Linking.
Selecting a Neighborhood
Goal: Determine Target Area
Mika’s first step in community building is Selecting a Neighborhood. To determine a target community we speak with residents and observe the culture and activity within the neighborhood. In addition, we seek out the assessment and feedback of other community players, including police, school district officials, neighborhood pastors, and other agencies familiar with the area. The goal is to gain an insider’s knowledge of the neighborhood and a comprehensive view of the community’s status. Upon diligent consideration of this information, Mika can identify a target community.
Goal: Determining Partner Church
The second step in community building is Developing Partnerships. The goal of this step is to establish a working partnership with a church willing to make a long-term commitment of at least five years to the selected neighborhood.
Connecting: Getting Together
Goal: Identify Neighborhood Leaders
The goal of the third step, Connecting, is to identify leaders currently living and working within the neighborhood. During this stage, Mika staff gains an understanding of the routines, rhythms, culture and traditions of the neighborhood. The Staff also builds rapport and fosters trust with individuals and families within the neighborhood by listening to their life stories and family histories, by referring neighbors to resources within the community, and by inviting children and teens to participate in Mika’s existing programs. Mika also facilitates fun and inviting neighborhood activities which offer the neighbors the opportunity to get to know one another.
Organizing: Acting Together
Goal: Establish a team of neighbors committed to working together
The fourth step, Organizing, involves the formation of a Neighborhood Action Committee (NAC), consisting of residents from the target neighborhood. Once established, the NAC schedules regular neighborhood meetings to which friends and neighbors are invited. The initial meetings are intended to build trust in the NAC by organizing short-term activities that allow neighbors to get to know one another. As the neighbors come together, they begin to identify shared values and voice a shared vision of the future. Through group activities, home visits and dialogue with the neighbors, the NAC identifies opportunities for action that reflect these shared values and visions.
The long-term purpose of the NAC meetings is to design and implement larger projects of change that effectuate the values and vision of the neighborhood. Together the NAC identifies concerns within the neighborhood and begins to articulate strategies to address these concerns. The NAC then adopts a strategy and designs initiatives to carry out this strategy that are both sustainable and within the capacity of the neighborhood to implement. Ultimately, it is the NAC that identifies the outcomes and objectives for an initiative, formulates an implementation methodology, adopts an organizational structure, develops resources, and manages the project budget and schedule. These activities go hand in hand with the fifth stage, Capacity Building.
Capacity Building: Learning Together
Goal: To implement sustainable initiatives
Mika’s fifth step in community building is Capacity Building. The goal of this stage is to implement the sustainable initiatives identified and designed by the NAC. During this stage, the Neighborhood Advisor uses neighborhood activities and initiatives to intentionally develop the leadership capacity of the identified leaders. As these leaders implement neighborhood initiatives they hone their ability to identify, design, and evaluate projects, and to raise and manage the resources required by such projects. Through this process neighborhood leaders begin to step into the leadership roles previously occupied by the Neighborhood Advisor.
In addition, during this stage the neighbors articulate goals and formulate a strategic plan for the next three to five years. The friendships and trust built at previous stages is vital during this process, as the neighbors will need the confidence that comes from such trust in order to voice ideas and to step out in action. Also during this time, new members are welcomed into the NAC, and new neighbors are engaged in community projects. In this way, the connection between neighbors is continually strengthened, and the neighborhood vision is honed and deepened.
Linking: Impacting Together
Goal: to implement collaborative initiatives
The final stage of Mika’s community building framework is Linking. The objective of this stage is to link NACs to other organizations and NACs throughout Costa Mesa. This linking process allows neighborhood leaders to share ideas and to collaborate on solutions to issues of city-wide concern. Examples of current linking projects include the annual Christmas Store and a Healthy Marriage Initiative.
*For inquiries into our work or partnership opportunities, please connect with Keturah Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org