Each year, many students have the opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom at the Garland School of Social Work and go into local communities to make an impact through asset-mapping initiatives.
What is asset mapping, you might ask? Asset mapping is a model of community development where a group goes into a community or organization and takes inventory of what strengths and resources it has. Through this process, students look at what is good and how those assets can be used to make an impact, as well as what could be changed to make a community or organization even better.
I was able to speak to both a social work student who worked on an asset mapping team and a pastor who was served by one of the teams to hear from both sides how the process worked and what impact it had on their communities and lives personally.
One MSW student, Victoria Jordan, worked with a team of other students just north of Waco in the city of Lacy Lakeview. Starting in September 2016, Victoria and her team worked with community members to start mapping out Lacy Lakeview, finding out what resources were in the town and separating different businesses and organizations into categorized lists. They even travelled around the town to make a google map that physically laid out where all of the town’s resources were.
Victoria and her team surveyed more than 100 people and businesses to find out what people loved about Lacy Lakeview, what made them continue to live there, and what they would like to see change about the city.
Conversations with community members and survey results clearly showed how much the citizens of Lacy Lakeview love their city. Victoria and her team found that people highly valued the city’s close-knit community so much that they wanted more city events and overall engagement to continue to foster close connection among citizens. Many talked about liking jobs there, Connally ISD, and the overall small town feel of Lacy Lakeview.
As humans, we so easily default to focusing on the negative. It takes intentionality to go into a community and focus on the good.
“At the end of the process, community members met with city council members and presented the map to the Lacy Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. We received a warm response and interest from the Mayor for the team to give recommendations for next steps,” Victoria said.
Victoria said the experience was very enriching for her, as she was able to see the beauty of Lacy Lakeview and the positive attitude its citizens had. She found the city didn’t have a great view from people in other parts of Waco, but those inside the city had the complete opposite impression.
“When the team met with the Lacy Lakeview Chief of Police, he said, ‘If you look for the good, you will find the good. If you look for the bad, you will find the bad,’" Victoria said.
Personally, Victoria realized that, “As humans, we so easily default to focusing on the negative. It takes intentionality to go into a community and focus on the good.” She was able to see through the asset-mapping process that there is much more good going on in cities than one may hear about from an outsider or see from a quick drive through.
One initiative she found very encouraging during the asset-mapping process was Connally Career Tech Early College High School, a collaboration between Connally ISD and TSTC Waco, which helps students complete associate degrees and certifications alongside their high school diplomas to better equip them for the workplace or college after graduation.
Overall, Victoria was encouraged by what she found through asset mapping. Her eyes were opened to how rich and wonderful the community of Lacy Lakeview really is.
“Asset-based community development allows communities to recognize the tools they [already] have in their toolbox,” Victoria said, acknowledging how people so easily look at what is lacking and miss out on what good is already in a place.
Another community that has seen the benefit of a Baylor social work student is First Baptists Church Valley Mills (FBCVM). After a Sunday service, I sat down with the church’s pastor, John Wheatley, to talk about how now GSSW alumnus Travis Engel made an impact on his church and the greater community of Valley Mills, Texas.
Travis already knew Pastor Wheatley from a mentorship group at Truett Theological Seminary, so once Pastor Wheatley heard he was interested in an internship revolving around social work ministry in a rural community, he decided to bring him in to do some administrative work with FBCVM.
Travis spent six months going through the asset-mapping process for both the church and Valley Mills community, then took another six months to work on implementing some of his suggestions.
“Out of the asset mapping came the need for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes,” Pastor Wheatley said.
Pastor Wheatley had noticed how quickly the Hispanic population was growing in Valley Mills. Many in the congregation had previously mentioned offering ESL classes as a church ministry, but Travis ultimately gave them the needed push and collaborative effort to get a program off the ground.
“There was a group of people that volunteered and said, ‘Hey, God has been wanting us to do something about this for a long time,’” Pastor Wheatley said. Travis put a team together and they came up with a plan to start the ESL classes. Those classes started the day after I interviewed Pastor Wheatley.
Though Travis worked closely with FBCVM, he left an impact on the entire community and brought them together even more.
“[Since] Travis was out and about in the community…we have some people from other churches, and some people not from churches–just from the community–who want to help,” Pastor Wheatley said. “We had people that heard what we were doing and said, ‘Can we come be a part of that?’ and we said, ‘Absolutely.’”
It was easy to tell that Pastor Wheatley enjoyed having Travis work with his church, as he said, “It’s been a great thing for our church to have an intern here. I hope we get another one!”
Pastor Wheatley and FBCVM hope to make further strides to support the growing Hispanic community in Valley Mills such as providing tutoring for children, but they are excited to get their ESL initiative firmly established first.
Numerous GSSW students have had the same kinds of opportunities to work around Waco helping communities and organizations see their potential and identify ways they can continue to improve. This kind of field work takes what students learn in class out into the real world.
Social workers’ perspectives can be so important in making an impact in local communities. Asset-mapping flips the perspective of identifying needs many people come with when trying to help communities grow. Social Workers tend to view things from a strengths perspective.
“When we approach development from the typical lens of a needs assessment, we come to the table with empty hands,” Victoria Jordan said, summing up the importance of more people approaching the world with eyes that seek possibility instead of only seeing places that need fixing.