Intentional Neighboring Community (INC) as Intervention
An INC is a neighborhood organized around a social issue. It provides each member of the community with a job and validation. It is organized around 2 key principles:
- All individuals are deserving of the same embeddedness in community and family as anyone else and are not to be seen as having problems to be managed. In our case, children are embedded in a dense web of support.
- Given the opportunity people possess an enduring capacity to care for one another. (Much like an old-fashioned neighborhood.)
Shared purpose, not place, binds these communities.
INCs can be organized around the issue of foster care or other social issues like homelessness, veterans, pregnant teens, etc. For our purposes we look at foster care families and youth.
The first INC (Hope Meadows) was organized around the issue of foster care in 1994. Three policy areas were impacted and this still remains true.
- Children and Youth
- Housing and community development
It is comprised of:
- Foster/adoptive/kinship parents
- Youth who have experienced out-of-home care.
For success it requires a radical shift in the way social services are experienced by the community members. Supportive social services are important but are not the first line of defense when a problem arises. The focus of problem-solving shifts from the professionals to the community. It embeds each child in a dense web of natural, community supports.
The INC banks on being able to attract a diverse population whose members share one common, united purpose but in other ways can be incredibly different from each other. In this case, the common purpose is the well-being and success of the children residing in the community – all of the children. A successful INC is one where eventually it will be difficult to distinguish children who have experienced foster care from those who have not.
Individual services such as therapy, housing or education do not address the complexity of the issues our population faces. The INC does. It provides a context in which the individual heals in community, through the very act of community support. It changes the paradigm from organizing the immediate environment around the youth’s needs to situating the youth in a community that sees him as one of their own, watching out for him and providing a secure home base – but as a community not on the individual family level thereby shifting the burden from a small number of individuals to an entire community.
Seniors are the backbone/bedrock of an INC. They are motivated to live in an INC by what it offers – PURPOSE. The graying of CT provides us with a huge senior population that will need housing but more importantly, purpose. It can be a transformative experience (for seniors, families and youth.) The INC provides them with both. It changes the way the community views seniors as primarily consumers to producers – again, having a purpose. A critical element for an aging population – feeling needed, useful and important – the ability to leave a meaningful legacy. Seniors are the adults available during the day when youth may need support. Like in years past, it becomes their job to watch out for the young people and the neighborhood where it is truly appreciated. Estimates of approx. 15% of workers over 60 work p/t before retiring allowing for more volunteer time. Volunteering later in life has positive impact on physical and mental health. There is value in the wisdom, maturity of judgment, learned communication skills, ability to see the larger picture that comes with age and willingness to give back that seniors bring.
As the seniors age – the young adults are provided with a valuable opp to give back. Again reciprocity.
Attraction for young people:
- Reduction/end isolation (loneliness)
- Provide the “family” so often lacking in their lives
- Feeling supported and understood
- Improve outcomes as community takes on role of mentors and honorary grands.
Diversity is important for the success of an IICI.
Social relationships matter.
For the agency involved – and for the residents – it is not a job – it is a lifestyle choice, a commitment to care.
Benefits for Youth
- Changes the paradigm from organizing the immediate environment (read family) around the youth’s needs to situating the youth in a community that sees him as one of their own, watching out for him and providing a secure home base. This is done on a community level – not individual family level thereby shifting the weight of caregiving from a small number of individuals to an entire community.
- Transformative experience for young people as seniors age in community. Children who were primarily consumers of caregiving change to providers of care. This can change the way a youth sees himself and provide purpose and an opportunity for responsibility.
- For the youth who has aged out and has not reconnected with family, she is offered a safe place to develop lifelong relationships in community. Our theory is that some youth who have not been successful in adoptive families may need the space and emotional safety offered by a home of their own where they can form social relationships slowly – at a pace of their choosing.
Most INCs are mixed income housing communities – a mix of affordable housing and market rate housing. Different communities form partnerships with government, HUD developers, banks and CDCs. (A community development corporation (CDC) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated to provide programs, offer services and engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs usually serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town. They often focus on serving lower-income residents or struggling neighborhoods. They can be involved in a variety of activities including economic development, education, community organizing and real estate development. These organizations are often associated with the development of affordable housing. Definition from Wikipedia)
Historically, mixed income housing communities have had limited success. The theory was that these families would form cohesive communities despite their differences just because of their proximity to each other. The INC has a distinct advantage – organization around a specific social issue. Everyone shares many of the same values and desires to see the community succeed, despite their other differences in education, income, class, religion, etc. In these communities it is social relationships that matter. People move to these communities either because they need and want the assistance of community relationships or because they feel they have something to offer the community. The truth is probably a bit of both for all members of the community. Their common purpose becomes the reason for their cohesiveness.
We see social services in our INC as more of a support system to the community and the occasional place to discuss complex issues that require the assistance of professionals. Situated in a community center, we assist with scheduling community events designed to bring the community together. We also provide opportunities for creativity and learning (parenting classes, info about drugs and alcohol, etc.) and case management when necessary.