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Community Outreach and Building Relationships

Many Chapters or Sections want to get involved with Community Engineering Corps but don’t know where to start. Just because there isn’t an open project in your state doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do!

As a young program, we rely on volunteers to be our voices in the field and drive grassroots, word-of-mouth communication. The guidance outlined in this article is the foundation for building a relationship with a community. So much goes on before the community application, the following will give you an idea of what that looks like.

So, where do you really begin? Start at the source of information. Local nonprofits and government agencies likely know of communities that are struggling with their systems or other infrastructure. The agencies’ lists of communities are also likely too long to get everyone the services they need. This is where your team comes in. Remember to underscore the value of CECorps volunteers: Our engineers provide pro bono services that fill a gap in the development cycle. We’re not here to compete or steal work, we’re here to play our part in improving infrastructure in communities that need it most.

Make Connections:

Build on Existing Relationships:

  • Neighboring communities
  • Urban neighborhoods

Whether or not you have existing connections with any of the previously listed groups, the first thing to do is a bit of outreach. Contact your local NGOs, nonprofits, primacy agencies, and even potential communities themselves, and share with them who we are and what CECorps does. We’ve created a one-page flyer that is perfect for introducing communities to our work. Your goal with initial outreach is to share more about the program, but also to listen to the history of community infrastructure issues. Encourage organizational partners to channel community projects to CECorps for technical assistance. The conversation should be kept informative, yet open and receptive. Remember to introduce CECorps with the following points in mind.

Introducing Community Engineering Corps:

  • Volunteers provide engineering services, pro bono, to communities that cannot afford them. As such, they are not paid staff members.
  • Community Engineering Corps is not a funding organization.
  • We are not a governmental organization, and our services are entirely optional.
  • All projects are community driven.

Now that you have a few priority partners or communities in mind, what next?

Set up an initial meeting. Although in-person meetings are the best for establishing trust and putting names to faces, phone conversations are also a viable way to make that initial connection.

What do you talk about? Once you’ve introduced the program and what we focus on, in the first meetings you want your potential community partners to do most of the talking. Encourage them by asking questions. You’re on an information-seeking mission at this point. Throw out any preconceived ideas you may have about what they need—you won’t fully understand until you’ve heard their perspective.

Ask the Community Reps Questions:

  • Who are the community leaders? (Ideally, this conversation will continue with the community leaders.)
  • What are the major problems the community faces?
  • Where do they see their community in five years?
  • What are the improvements they would like to see in their community?

Provide Guidance:

  • Present CECorps as an option for helping to achieve community goals.
  • A community’s commitment to its project is imperative. Communities will be actively involved in applying for their projects, as well as for project development and implementation.
  • It is CECorps’ intent to assist communities that cannot afford engineering assistance. We do not provide assistance to communities that have the funds to pay for these services, nor do we fund projects that are not openly accessible to all members of the community.
  • A project must have a reasonable scope and schedule that can realistically be completed by a group of engineering volunteers.
  • Ideally, projects will improve community infrastructure systems or assets such as community centers, etc; educational and training projects may also be considered.
  • The Community Engineering Corps is not a funding agency.

Establish follow-up conversations and, for communities, potentially plan a site visit. Begin to outline the requirements for applying for CECorps assistance. Help your intended community partner complete the 541 Community Application.

On the 541 Community Application, ensure your community partner has added sufficient details for the Domestic Application Review Committee to make an informed and confident decision. Also ensure your community partner lists your team as the affiliated project team, then begin pulling together the required material for your 542 Project Team Application.

CECorps staff is available to help you navigate these critical conversations. For questions or additional guidance, please contact cecinfo@ewb-usa.org.