January 2, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 1

News

New city program trains the next generation of citizen activists

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A new class of graduates is about to take to the streets. The City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON) created the People’s Academy for Community Engagement (PACE) to teach the next generation of community leaders to work on community councils, business associations and grassroots efforts. The program graduated its first students in October.

“Seattle has a lot of wonderful activists,” said Christa Dumpys, one of the program’s organizers who is district coordinator for DON. “But when you have been passionate and involved for a long time it’s hard to keep going. I’ve seen many who want to pass the torch on, but no one was there to take it.”

Phillip Duggan, co-chair of the North District Council and President of the Pinehurst Community Council, said PACE helped him sharpen basic skills such as planning and running meetings, working with volunteers and finding appropriate resources for projects.

“Before this class I wasn’t particularly focused on outreach and engagement outside of our website and people who already attended our community council meetings,” Duggan said. “Now I realize the importance of trying to be more inclusive.” 

Dumpys said the only prerequisite for PACE is “a passion for community work and a willingness to commit to the time frame and all that is involved.”

The program cost $50 per participant and met last year at Seattle University once a month from April to October, with each meeting featuring a different facilitator who had expertise in a certain subject, such as community organizing, event planning and public speaking.

Duggan and Diana Bohn, another participant, financed their final PACE project, a collaboration of the Lake City Farmer’s Market and dozens of community groups, with a Neighborhood Matching Fund Grant. Bohn added she “never would have thought the city would provide money to organize the event.” 

DON gives grants to projects that provide a public benefit and are planned and implemented by those who will be impacted by the project. Not everyone has had an equal chance at such grants, said Tony To, who led the PACE grant writing session. He is executive director of Homesight, a community development corporation that helps first time homeowners.

“DON matching funds tend to favor more well-off neighborhoods, where people are more likely to have professional training and more leisure time to get together,” To said. “So you get projects in neighborhoods that don’t really need them.  I think the PACE program can help balance this out.” 

More than half of the PACE participants came from historically underrepresented communities, including recent immigrants and African, Asian and Native Americans.  In southeast Seattle a group of Ethiopians and Somalis devised a voter education campaign that aimed to help recent immigrants understand the importance of voting and how to register to vote.  A group from the International District put on a children’s concert, while a group from Ballard organized a free CPR training course aimed at low-income people.

PACE provides an important lesson in democracy for the immigrants who participated, as it is often a hard concept for many immigrants to understand, To said.

“Most people have no problem calling their congressperson if they want something, but sometimes it takes a whole generation for an immigrant to realize they have that right,” said To, who immigrated from Hong Kong. 

PACE participants will now be able to educate others about their rights and use their knowledge of the DON grant system to get money for needed projects, he said.

“It’s a very important skill, because there are hardly any other resources left anymore,” he said.

People interested in learning about the 2013 PACE program can contact Wendy Watson at 206.684-.0719.

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