Be the Change
On November 15, a group of 29 Oromo community elders gathered to talk about their community and their roles in making the community better. They were participating in a Vital Aging Network “Be the Change” workshop, developed and led by the Peg Kavaney and Julie Roles.
The “Be the Change” workshop engages participants in a highly interactive discussion to heighten their sense of the importance of being involved in their community and move them to take action. In the process, participants identify the strengths in their community and understand the various civic roles they and others play. Through funding from the St Paul Foundation, the Vital Aging Network has developed partnerships with three Saint Paul community organizations to deliver the workshops: Hamline Midway Elders, the Oromo Community of Minnesota, and Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly.
The November 15 workshop was hosted by the Oromo Community of Minnesota (OCM), a nonprofit organization that serves the approximately 15,000 Oromo who live in Minnesota (Minnesota has the largest Oromo community in the United States). Most of the Oromo in Minnesota are refugees who fled their native Ethiopia to escape persecution.
The workshop presented some special challenges and unique opportunities for the VAN facilitators. Since about half of the participants in the workshop did not speak English, Oromo community members translated throughout the program. While the particulars of the “Be the Change” workshop were new to the participants, the idea of democratic process was not. The Oromo culture has governed in an egalitarian, democratic system for centuries. VAN participants found their unique perspective both enlightening and thought provoking.
The conversation was lively and engaging. At the end, the group named five concrete steps that they will take together to strengthen their community. Alemayehu Baisa, the executive director of OCM, was pleased with the results and commented that this process got a broader range of older adults talking about their community in a constructive, powerful way. At the closing of the program, one member said, “Please come back soon, we need this.”
In the Hamline Midway community, 14 elders participated in the “Be the Change” workshop. Hamline Midway Elders, led by Beth Reedy Hanson, sponsored the workshop and recruited participants. The group was a mix of people who have been highly active in the community and those who are new to the idea.
Together the group created the start of a map of all the sub-communities in the Hamline Midway, their civic roles, and the connections among the groups. Several of the participants were already working on projects in the community and expressed a desire to be a part of a group of older adults who share an interest in keeping their community strong. The group decided to meet monthly and met for a second time on November 17. At that meeting they defined the purpose of the group:
- Share interests, civic engagement ideas, area resources
- Get to know others who care about their community
- Bring forth concerns and/or initiatives and glean advice from others
Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly has created a small working team led by LuAnne Speeter to identify a community and recruit participants for a “Be the Change” workshop to be held in January.
VAN participants have found working with these diverse community an outstanding and rewarding experience. VAN hope that this workshop will be the start of ongoing engagement of older adults in these communities. VAN thanks the participating communities for their dedication in bringing the “Be the Change” workshop to their communities and keeping the action going after the workshop.