Community Connect in Long Branch

“It feels great to be back in person!” That was the sentiment shared by Senior Network Builder Sara Mussie as she arranged a circle of chairs for the evening’s Community Connect. The March 24 event, co-organized with our friends at Clifton Park Baptist Church (CPBC), was the first large, in-person community meeting IMPACT has hosted in Long Branch since the beginning of the pandemic.

Held in the church’s social hall, the event was designed to support residents in building relationships with each other, having conversations about the things they care about, and practicing mutual support and exchange. The event had three distinct activities—an opening ice breaker, facilitated breakout conversations, and a closing marketplace activity.

Despite the rainy weather, 25 residents braved the elements to join us for the evening. As we took turns with introductions, we learned that community members were from an array of home countries such as Mexico, Haiti, Cameroon, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Nicaragua, and Honduras. After a round of the icebreaker People Bingo, attendees joined breakout groups and engaged in facilitated conversations about careers and health.

Conversation topics were identified in advance by residents who were surveyed during visits to the Silver Spring Service Consolidation Hub at CPBC.  It’s worth noting that, in addition to professional Spanish-English simultaneous interpretation, breakouts were also aided by French interpretation provided by Jimmy, a community volunteer originally from Haiti.

“The breakouts were spaces where we could slow down and have conversations and really understand what some of the barriers are for people,” remarked IMPACT Network Builder Oneyda Hernandez. Two of the barriers that community members named during their conversations were not having resumes and lack of access to information on good nutrition for their families. Keep reading to learn about plans for removing these barriers.

The final activity of the evening was the marketplace, an interactive exercise where each attendee can make an offer or request. Offers and requests are recorded on a whiteboard and matches are made, if possible, in real time. Some of the matches made during the evening included a donated child’s bicycle finding a new home and a resident needing help with learning basic computer skills getting connected with someone who can teach those skills. The marketplace serves to highlight the wealth of resources, knowledge, and talents available within the community.

Many thanks to our partners who helped make the Community Connect event possible! Randi Drewry, Outreach Coordinator at CPBC, helped with every aspect of the event and co-facilitated the career conversation with IMPACT’s Sara Mussie and Oneyda Hernandez. Thanks to the rest of the CPBC team–Esther Acre, Carrol Pettus, and Isabel Salinas–for helping with outreach, planning, and setup, and breakdown of the location. Thanks to IMPACT Network Guide Ruby Machado for help with registration and the distribution of to-go meals from El Golfo. Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER) staff members facilitated the health breakout conversation in Spanish. Healthcare insurance experts Xiomara Leslie and Sharon Pinckney facilitated the health breakout conversation in English. Jean Pablo from Latino Economic Development Center hosted an information table. And, of course, many thanks to our interpreters Maria and Sandra for enabling us to communicate across languages.

As a result of the breakout conversations, residents will be connected to WorkSource Montgomery’s Mobile Job Center for help with resume writing and to CHEER’s nutrition classes, both of which are offered free of cost to residents. It’s also worth noting that the Hub maintains the marketplace whiteboard throughout the month as a resource for people to post their offers and requests as they visit the weekly food distributions.  

The plan is to host regular Community Connect events in the months to come. The hope for these sessions resonates in Sara Mussie’s remark, “We want these events to reflect community voices and be designed around residents’ interests and concerns. These spaces are really meant to be grassroots listening sessions.”