I have always been a great fan of the idea of neighborhood centers - from the day I first encountered them.
I think being in the neighborhood and connecting to the people there, to see what is really needed, to support people in making their living environment a better place is the way to go. There is so much potential in each of us, we just need a welcoming and supportive atmosphere to grow.
Community Centers should be those shining lighthouses you see when you come to a neighborhood and you know that no matter who you are and where you are from - you will be welcomed. This is something that requires patience and love to grow into the community.
I worked in "my" center in Vienna for many years until I got connected to the International Federation of Settlements. That connection opened a whole new dimension of the work I had not been aware of until then. There was the history of the Settlement movement, and the vast amount of different projects scattered around the world that were all on the same mission - to make our communities better and more livable.
I just loved the new perspective, and I know it changed our perspective in Vienna on our everyday work.
Attending meetings and conferences all over the world with IFS helped to build my passion for this kind of work and my understanding of the greater picture. It has been a privilege to visit and experience many different community centers, neighborhood centers and settlements in quite a few countries. With each experience I was able to reflect on my work and evaluate my methods and approaches. It's a necessary step if you want to learn and grow, but it can be difficult when the system you work for doesn't change and grow to respond. I think it's healthy to challenge our beliefs and be willing to critically evaluate why and how we can best work together.
Part of the work of IFS, besides connecting organizations and projects, is to connect people on a personal level, often creating friendships. I am very grateful for all the opportunities that have come through the international network of IFS.
After working as a director of a neighborhood center for 13 years, I felt that I needed to get out of my comfort zone, to challenge my goals and beliefs - - and learn a lot.
I contacted the people I met through IFS in New York and asked if they would be willing to have me as an intern. Although it was clear that I would be a quite demanding intern, they agreed. They organized for me to get insights into different levels of the organization and different parts of their work. They were very welcoming and supportive - and helped me have a very meaningful experience in New York. They took the time to explain to me how they structure and approach their work, and were willing to discuss and answer the million questions I had on everything.
I gained a lot of insight, knowledge, and skills, and definitely a whole new understanding of our work.
I am now in my last days here and trying to squeeze in as much new learning experiences as possible. As always, when you are really immersed in something, time flies.
Thank you IFS!
Thank you University Settlement and thank you Michael Zisser and Melissa Aase.
Thank you all, my new short term colleagues for you time, patience and willingness to be open about challenges and victories in your work.
I truly felt like a very important neighbor!