On April 18, 2012, I attended the New York State Public Health Association’s Pre-Conference Workshop: “Towards Health Equity: Transforming Communities through Engagement” in Troy, NY. A presentation given by Deborah Puntenney, Ph.D., Barbara Zappia, MPA, Lauren Snyder, RN, MPA and Miguel Melendez, BA focused on engaging neighborhood residents in the creation of opportunities for healthy living, using the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Instead of emphasizing “what needs to be fixed,” or the negatives about a neighborhood (i.e. low income and low literacy levels, abandoned buildings, high crime rate), ABCD seeks to identify existing assets and empower its residents. Community members are involved in the process from day 1, as they formulate personally meaningful goals and identify neighborhood assets such as community centers, churches and vacant lots (that have the potential to become playgrounds, parks, gardens or housing.)
Asset Based Community Development promotes unconditional acceptance of all residents as having the potential to positively contribute to neighborhood improvement efforts. The power of this philosophy was exemplified by a touching story told by Miguel Melendez:
A community re-shaper brought a home cooked meal to a few men loitering on her street, who also happened to be known drug dealers. Although she served them with plastic plates and silverware, one man returned them to her afterwards and said that if someone had been as kind to him growing up he wouldn’t be doing what he was doing now. He never dealt on her street again.