OUR PRACTICE APPROACH
Whether focussing on social or economic development, all our workshops and strategic planning processes are guided by participatory learning principles. While participants are provided with relevant theory and information, the emphasis is on exploring a range of themes relevant to creating conditions for health and well-being through the lens of stories. In 2014 we introduced to our practice a powerful approach to storytelling that makes use of digital editing tools while staying true to the oral storytelling tradition and to the principles of participatory learning. We have named this component of our service delivery At the Heart of the Matter: Meeting in the Story Circle
Our approach to community development can best be described as strength-based. We have incorporated the insights of therapeutic models that emphasize strengths and resilience over deficiencies and mental health diagnoses. We have also been guided by the insights of community organizer and educator, John McKnight. After years of studying the conditions that support healthy and vibrant community life, McKnight identified two main ones. First, in a healthy community the gifts of all its members are acknowledged and put to use. So, for example, if a community decides to put up a building with a very steep roof and the “town drunk” is a master roofer, he (or she) is put to work. Second, when healthy communities are called upon to address critical concerns, the stories that have emerged out of the life of the community become primary sources of inspiration and guidance.
There is an ever-increasing awareness in the field of community development and in all of the helping professions of the role that creativity plays in supporting individual and communal health and wellness.
For over two decades, we have increasingly incorporated art-based activities into our development work. In partnership with local and visiting artists, we have delivered a range of initiatives that use traditional and contemporary art, audio art, music, photography, video, and theatre to create intergenerational exchange, address issues relating to violence and addiction, and assist individuals and communities with histories of trauma to tell their stories. Currently, the main focus of our art-based practice is digital storytelling.
Over and over again, we at Community Works have been gobsmacked by what happens when community members come together to make art. Through creative engagement, safe and inclusive spaces open up in which everyone can feel welcome – gang-involved and at-risk youth, adult mentors, isolated elders, and the community at large. As community members come together to ‘play’ through art, they discover safe ways to break silence, address deep wounds, celebrate accomplishments, and explore potential solutions to individual and collective challenges.
While our strategic planning processes can accommodate groups as large as 60, our workshops are generally limited to between 10 to 25 participants. Community Works delivers workshops for small groups to ensure that each participant has an opportunity to contribute to group learning. Because of the demands of the digital storytelling process and the need for 1-on-1 facilitation, we limit participation in At the Heart of the Matter workshops to 6 people.