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The ABC(D)’s of Community Engagement

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By: Katy Constantinides, International Studies and Gender and Women Studies, Scholar Shop

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Last year, my desire to be more involved with CCESL brought me to the page of Scholar Shop projects waiting to be picked up. When I decided to work with the Episcopal Church of Denver on a report to learn more about Asset-Based Community Engagement, I hoped to contribute to their ability to work with their community in a more effective and ethical way. I didn’t realize that I would also be learning so much about community organizing along the way, and acquiring a new toolset to use in my own work.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a shift from a traditional needs-based approach to community work done by most NGO’s and religious organizations. Needs-based approaches assess what the community lacks, then seeks to fill those needs with outside resources. While these actions can alleviate burdens in the short-term, they do little to create healthier communities. By focusing instead on the gifts, talents, and resources that are present in the community, ABCD fosters sustainable community building through connections and actions rooted directly in the people already present.

ABCD is an ongoing, flexible process without a strict timeline. This can make it a daunting task, but it is also often more financially feasible and has a greater reward in the long-term. The role of the helping organization is not to provide aid or material services, but to discover the assets present in the community and foster connections between community members. The organization can provide space for community meetings, funding for events, and other initiatives, but community members themselves should always be centered in planning and enacting any large projects, events, or initiatives. People are experts on their own community, and their expertise should be trusted in any kind of community engagement.

ABCD has provided me with a new mindset and ways of engaging with community that will influence everything I do from this point forward. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to work on this project.

ABCD Resources:

  • DePaul University’s ABCD Institute
  • Green, M., Moore, H., & O’Brien, J. (2006). When People Care Enough to Act: ABCD in Action. Inclusion Press.
  • Kretzmann, J. & McKnight, J. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. ACTA Publications.


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