At its most basic level, community engagement is a commitment to purposefully supporting communities in reaching their fullest potential. It is not only the act of collaborating with community members and stakeholders but also an approach that guides the process of those interactions. This is a two-way process of intentional relationship building and power sharing to co-create solutions. Community engagement is vital to addressing the systemic inequities and structural barriers that are too often pervasive in communities.
At the forefront of community engagement in Dallas, Texas, The Concilio is a nonprofit organization that strives to build stronger communities by unlocking education, wellness, and economic opportunities for Latino families. Founded in 1981, The Concilio emerged as a grassroots organization committed to advocating for a growing Latino population around education and collective impact. While The Concilio’s initial focus was educating nonprofits and other agencies on effectively reaching the Latino population, today, it is recognized for its expertise in delivering customized services through evidence-based, culturally responsive programs. These programs are free to families and focus on preventative health, wellness, nutrition, and physical activity for families predisposed to developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Additional wraparound programs such as the multi-generational health program Healthy Kids, Healthy Families, and Comprando Rico Y Sano (Buying Healthy and Flavorful Foods) support enrollment in federal programs such as Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)/Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Reaching over 250,000 people, The Concilio is a community-based organization (CBO) model committed to helping diverse families fulfill their potential—95 percent of families served by The Concilio are Latinos. This is notable as Latinos are essential drivers of growth for the U.S. economy. CBOs like The Concilio are at the forefront of community engagement efforts on the local level—developing strategic partnerships and networks that broaden their strengths and reach. Recently, we have had the privilege of discussing how organizations can bolster their community engagement efforts with the President & CEO of the Concilio, Florencia Velasco Fortner. Serving North Texas and Southern California for 25 years, Florencia has been a grassroots community organizer, child advocate, and leader in the Latino community. Below are key takeaways from that conversation.
Lead with Cultural Competency
Cultural competency needs to be at the foundation of all community engagement initiatives. By understanding the unique needs of the communities being served, organizations are better able to account for the experiences of the people impacted by programs and policies. This lessens the potential of initiatives having unforeseen consequences or unintended barriers and promotes equity. Additionally, when paired with high-impact programs, cultural competence allows organizations to gain the trust of traditionally hard-to-reach populations.
Engaging with communities requires humility, vulnerability, and a willingness to embrace discomfort. Equitable partnerships cannot function without mutual trust. Partnerships with communities necessitate that leaders recognize and accept that they don’t always have the answers. This means being okay with uncertainty and the unknown and shifting from a top-down approach to treating community members as experts. Rather than making executive decisions for communities, ask the community what they need, then incorporate their input and involve them in decision-making.
Leveraging data as part of community engagement is crucial for ensuring meaningful and effective interactions with a community. Data-driven approaches can help organizations better understand community members' needs, preferences, and behaviors, allowing them to tailor engagement efforts for maximum impact. Data-driven strategies should complement an organization’s broader community engagement strategy and be used as a tool to inform wider community engagement efforts.
The Concilio was one of three National Alliance for Hispanic Health members profiled in the Human Services Value Curve Toolkit, a transformation resource guide through the lens of the Human Services Value Curve (Value Curve). Developed by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) in collaboration with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, this toolkit provides an overview of the Value Curve. It includes case vignettes that highlight how an agency operates through the lens of the consumer.
Check out the Human Services Value Curve Toolkit to learn more, or contact Jennifer Kerr, Director of OE at APHSA.