Photo: Jungle Gym

Success Stories:

CDI HS makes a positive contribution to communities we serve! We collect highlights from local program and core staff to help us reflect upon our impact.

"Funk to Fervor: Small Steps and Big Dreams"

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Photo: Children's HandsA small community — 4,000 residents — in Louisiana was notable for being one of the ten poorest areas in the country. Racially divided and economically depressed, it struggled to maintain communal identity in the face of out-migration of young people. Citizens lived with little hope and a few memories of a bygone era when the parish was comparatively prosperous. Fortunately for this town, what began as a small, Appreciative Inquiry effort building on positive conversations in one nonprofit, is now playing a major role in rekindling community spirit and planning for a more vital future.

An established local nonprofit lost substantial federal funding after years of mismanagement and deteriorating services. As a designated interim management entity, CDI HS enters such failing programs with the mission of enhancing their local program operations and services, providing knowledge and skills needed for staff to be competitive when new sponsors are located and helping to make the program and community a better place.

The assigned site manager recognized immediately that the organization was a microcosm of the whole community — depressed, resentful and backward-looking. Staff felt powerless to make the changes necessary to fulfill their mission. Traditional team-building techniques had proven ineffective: they produced no permanent change in attitudes or interactions and when staff members talked, no one appeared to listen.

The new manager had experienced Appreciative Inquiry through CDI HS. Although she did not possess formal training in AI, she saw the possibility of using it to animate her disheartened organization. Arranging a staff retreat, she used positive questions to encourage staff to talk about what really mattered to them. The energy generated during and immediately after the retreat was infectious.

Subsequently, other AI processes were introduced throughout the agency. The results had an impact not only on the agency but also influenced neighborhood and community improvement actions.

One of the staff’s biggest complaints: “people aren’t being heard” — was in fact shorthand for a style of communication characterized by rumor, gossip, innuendo, complaints and opinion-mongering. Through using AI, “provocative propositions” — statements of possibility — were developed to insure positive communication became the norm. The site manager described the resulting change this way: “When I came to the organization, one of the first things I noticed was silence, uncanny silence, as if people had given up talking to one another. Now when I walk around, I hear the hum of conversation in every corner of our offices. To me, it’s the sound of happiness from people engaging in activities that make a difference.”

A mental health consultant, who has worked with the children’s program over a number of years, recently reported compelling accounts showing significant positive changes in staff interactions with children and the children’s behavior and development. A precipitous drop in problem behaviors in the classrooms occurred as teachers became happier working there and enthusiastically sought out classes to increase their professional skills.

From the start, the organization’s connection to the community was an issue due to the many years it neglected its clients. As the use of AI had an immediate beneficial impact on how the organization functioned internally, it soon resulted in positive impacts for its immediate neighborhood. A case in point: broken and unsafe equipment, installed in the 1950’s, made up a dilapidated playground adjacent to the agency. Through community organization and donations, a local architect created a site plan, hazardous equipment was removed and a “yard party” cleared the ground, built a sandbox, installed a barbeque and brought in movable playthings: tricycles, wagons, outdoor building blocks. Eventually, permanent and safe playground equipment will be installed.

Unexpectedly, an opportunity to benefit the community at large arose. A new billboard reading New Voice — New Vision appeared one day: the newly elected mayor’s promise to the people. The mayor wanted to create a vibrant and cohesive community — one like the older residents described in compelling stories of the past.

Recognizing yet another application for AI, the site manager met with the mayor, described how her organization was reinventing itself and asked to collaborate with him on applying these ideas toward community renewal. The mayor enthusiastically accepted her partnership and convened a small group of twenty civic leaders and opinion-makers for a town meeting. The meeting included interviews using positive questions. As a result participants discovered that they wanted the same thing — to restore their community. They each had many different, but interesting, ideas about how to get there.

The mayor seized the opportunity of bringing people together to discuss community affairs in a positive, strength-based context as the path to renewal and has scheduled ongoing town meetings to talk and plan. Residents are enthused. One result is a local ministry began operating a new coffee shop, conceived of as a cozy place for townsfolk to gather and have conversations. Some of these conversations are undoubtedly about exciting possibilities for the future.

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