Lessons from the Seattle Learning Exchange
The Seattle-based nonprofit Neighborhood House brought a team of five people to the Community Learning Exchange held in Seattle last month, “Peacemaking and Healing: Leadership Practices for Healthy, Inclusive Communities.”
Melanie Roper, early learning projects manager at Neighborhood House, said it was valuable to meet others doing similar work throughout the country to share ideas and experiences.
“Many of those there were strangers to me at first, but I left with a strong sense of who they are and the good work they are doing in their own communities,” said Melanie.
The Neighborhood House team presents ideas at the Seattle Learning Exchange
“Sometimes it can feel isolating or tiring doing the work we do—the CLE reenergized our team by bringing a new experience and new ideas. Not only were we able to share parts of our work that we are proud of, we were able to learn about what others are doing.”
Neighborhood House uses some of the fundamental principles from the Community Learning Exchange to strengthen its work within a diverse community.
“In Neighborhood House's home visiting program, our team is composed of women from over 10 different countries who speak more languages than I can count,” said Melanie. “We have used the peacemaking circle process as a way of building collective leadership, where all voices are heard and honored. At the CLE, we saw this process put into practice in a much larger group.”
Peacemaking Across Age Groups
Site visits organized within Learning Exchanges are significant because they offer a new perspective into places and people who are implementing cultural changes as they develop collective leadership practices. These visits can also create opportunities for other organizations to learn and incorporate new ideas into their own communities.
Melanie said she and her team were deeply affected by their site visit to the Bush School, where groups of young people were participating in peacemaking circles.
“It inspired me to see this process in action and to see the powerful leaders that the students have become through practicing circle,” she said.
Gracious Space exercise at CLE in Seattle
“One young man shared with us his senior project. He had organized a day-long event where other high school students could come to discuss issues of racism and social justice. I’ve never seen such smart, articulate, and compassionate teens! My coworkers and I talked for hours afterward about how we can open up similar opportunities to teens at Neighborhood House.”
Gracious Space as a Leadership Model
While Melanie and a co-worker were on a site visit to the Bush School, other members of the Neighborhood House team hosted a site visit of their own. They shared how the Early Childhood Education program is incorporating what they’ve learned about collective leadership to bring together different groups in their community.
“We have spent the last couple of years slowly integrating Gracious Space as a leadership model in our agency,” said Melanie.
“This has extended not only to staff, but to the people who come to Neighborhood House for programs. We recently started hosting Immigrant Women's circles in partnership with the Center for Ethical Leadership. This has been a place where women from the community at large, women from the neighborhoods we serve, and staff from the Center and from Neighborhood House can sit and share stories.”
“We consider this to be leadership development, as women share and develop their authentic voices in a safe environment. In the future, we hope to send more people, both staff and people from the neighborhoods we serve, to attend peacemaking circles, and to continue to integrate circles into our everyday work life at Neighborhood House.”
The Communities of Neighborhood House
Neighborhood House is dedicated to helping diverse communities of people with limited resources reach their goals for self-sufficiency, financial independence, health and community building. Since 1906, Neighborhood House has worked with immigrants, refugees and low-income people to assist them in overcoming economic, educational and employment challenges.
Neighborhood House programs focus on the following areas:
See more from the Seattle Learning Exchange