Comprehensive community development is an approach to creating places of opportunity for all. It is community-driven and data-driven, with a spotlight on equity and seeking out the voices of residents throughout planning and implementation. And it’s one of NeighborWorks America’s guiding principles, embedded in the organization’s strategic plan. With the help of Elizabeth Druback Celaya, director of Community Initiatives, NeighborWorks supports organizations looking to test or scale their comprehensive community development efforts. Druback Celaya joined NeighborWorks last September, after 20 years with Hudson River Housing, Inc., where she was most recently director of Strategic Initiatives. This month, she took some time to explain NeighborWorks' connection to comprehensive community development efforts.
What brought you to NeighborWorks?
I’ve spent the past 20 years in the community development field, working with a NeighborWorks network organization in New York. I was very familiar with NeighborWorks and excited about the opportunity to bring the skills I’d honed on a local level to a national context.
What have you learned in your time here?
There is so much good work happening out there! It has been inspiring to connect with network organizations across the country and learn about the innovative ways they're advancing their communities' priorities. It is constantly renewing to see the amazing community leaders who are out there effecting positive change, and it reinforces my optimism about the future.
Before you started this job, what did you know about what we refer to as comprehensive community development?
Before coming to NeighborWorks, I had the privilege to co-create some incredible place-based projects in communities that I care about, so I was familiar with the major tenets of comprehensive community development both in principle and in practice, even though I – like many – was not necessarily using specific words to describe the work. I am incredibly grateful for that on-the-ground experience, which I try to bring to my work every day.
What was your biggest takeaway once you learned more about it?
Comprehensive community development is critical to community resilience, and that is so important today, whether we're talking about economic instability, climate stress, inequality or any of the myriad issues people in a particular place might be grappling with. That is the beauty of the comprehensive approach – it provides a framework that can help any community tailor the right solutions to their most pressing challenges, and to do so in a way that brings people together instead of deepening divides.
Why does that matter?
One of the important things we've learned in the wake of the pandemic and through the ongoing fight for racial and social equity is that communities that have a comprehensive community development approach – which implies strong partnerships, trust with residents and a deep commitment to place – are able to respond more nimbly and effectively to challenges. And when we’re talking about things like natural disasters, pandemics or community crises, that makes a significant difference in both meeting pressing needs and moving long-term priorities forward. By increasing the responsiveness of policy and programs to local conditions, we create more sustainable solutions to urgent issues.
Why is this approach so important to NeighborWorks?
The comprehensive community development approach is integral to the NeighborWorks' ethos. It recalls the power of NeighborWorks' founding by a group of residents who cared deeply about the place where they lived, and worked collectively to make real change happen. Comprehensive community development centers resident voices, leads with equity, leverages diverse skills to move common goals, and it provides an answer to that really hard question that people ask all the time: We want to do this important thing for our community but how? Through a comprehensive approach, NeighborWorks is providing solutions and strategies to get to the “how.”
What do you want other people and organizations to know about NeighborWorks'approach to comprehensive community development?
Although comprehensive community development is not new or unique to NeighborWorks, we're leading the charge to harness its power by creating a set of defining principles and core competencies, and scaffolding the work through tools like grantmaking, training and capacity building. Naming comprehensive community development and the specific attributes that define the approach help those who are practicing in the field advance their work with greater clarity and purpose. And as we continue to learn from each other through some of the unique tools that NeighborWorks offers, such as peer-to-peer exchange, we continue to refine our practices, resulting in strategies that represent the most real-time integration of on-the-ground conditions in the industry.
What are some of your goals for the year ahead?
We want to continue to build out the set of tools that we offer to practitioners in the field. That includes grant opportunities that incorporate an emphasis on learning hard skills like data analysis and mapping; documenting promising strategies so they can be replicated by others; and supporting emerging leaders with technical assistance.
We’re also creating new training courses that expand the reach of the comprehensive community development approach by sharing it with the thousands of attendees at our NeighborWorks Training Institutes. Perhaps most importantly, we're integrating opportunities for continuous learning, through peer exchange, collective conversations on lessons learned, and ongoing engagement with our network.