What Is A Community

While we traditionally think of a community as the people in a given geographical location, the word can really refer to any group sharing something in common. This may refer to smaller geographic areas — a neighborhood, a housing project or development, a rural area — or to a number of other possible communities within a larger, geographically-defined community.

These are often defined by race or ethnicity, professional or economic ties, religion, culture, or shared background or interest:

  • The Catholic community (or faith community, a term used to refer to one or more congregations of a specific faith).
  • The arts community
  • The African American community
  • The education community
  • The business community
  • The homeless community
  • The medical community
  • The Haitian community
  • The elderly community

These various communities often overlap. An African American art teacher, for example, might see herself (or be seen by others) as a member of the African American, arts, and/or education communities, as well as of a particular faith community. An Italian woman may become an intensely involved member of the ethnic and cultural community of her Nigerian husband. Whichever community defines your work, you will want to get to know it well.

 

There are obviously many more aspects of community that can be explored, such as health or education.  The assumption here is that as part of an assessment, you’ll aim for a general understanding of the community, as described in this section, and also assess, with a narrower focus, the specific aspects you’re interested in.

Once you’ve explored the relevant areas of the community, you’ll have the information to create a community description. Depending on your needs and information, this description might be anything from a two-or three-page outline to an in-depth portrait of the community that extends to tens of pages and includes charts, graphs, photographs, and other elements. The point of doing it is to have a picture of the community at a particular point in time that you can use to provide a context for your community assessment and to see the results of whatever actions you take to bring about change.

A community description can be as creative as you’re capable of making it.  It can be written as a story, can incorporate photos and commentary from community residents, can be done online and include audio and video, etc. The more interesting the description is, the more people are likely to actually read it.

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WHAT DO WE MEAN BY UNDERSTANDING AND DESCRIBING THE COMMUNITY?

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