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Community LINC

Community LINC works to revitalize communities by empowering residents and providing them with the skills and opportunities to move out of poverty. It also works with Believe 2 Become to help children succeed in school, particularly in four underserved Grand Rapids neighborhoods identified as the Hope Zones. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
LINC Community Revitalization Communications Coordinator Kari Bergman: The work of LINC Community Revitalization Inc. seeks to do exactly that –connect, link. Through Community LINC, the efforts of the Believe 2 Become initiative to improve educational outcomes for children are married with the financial and asset building efforts of the LINC Opportunity Center, ensuring children and families are connected to opportunities allowing them to reach their potential. Coordinating and connecting the benefits of both of these programs through Community LINC results in maximized impact and effectiveness in individual and family success.
Years of marginalization, poverty and unemployment have created a "structure" of inequality and these conditions are systemically perpetuated within our neighborhoods.
Years of marginalization, poverty and unemployment have created a "structure" of inequality and these conditions are systemically perpetuated within our neighborhoods.
Families living in our neighborhoods often direct their energies to meeting basic needs, thus preventing them from developing their potential. Because none of these issues exist in a vacuum, the solution must be innovative, multi-faceted and work on the individual and system level. The longer term goal of Community LINC is quite simple: to assure that families within our historically marginalized communities are provided the opportunity to develop their potential. To do this, we are working to move families out of poverty, ensure children receive a quality education, and remove barriers to success that currently exist within the community and broader systems.
To date, we have witnessed remarkable change and real results in the lives of individuals and families that are participating in opportunities through Community LINC.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Community LINC has allowed our team to meet and build trust with residents. Through multiple outreach efforts, collaborations with different agencies and one-on-one relationship building, numerous people are being given the opportunity to gain access to services that could potentially change their entire situation.
Through all of these interactions, we are learning that the community is ready for this. They are so eager for this opportunity to work hard and see significant results in their lives and the lives of their children. Beyond this, it is imperative that individuals and families play a key role in realizing their success. This ownership and leadership ensures the sustainability of personal and community revitalization.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
LINC has learned several lessons over the last year. Many of the original parents involved in the Believe 2 Become program were excited about making change in their lives and within the community. Unfortunately, because of the lack of capacity building and leadership development programs at launch, many were not equipped to do the hard work that was needed to make those changes. Since then, LINC and a number of other community partners now offer leadership, parenting and other capacity building programs. Staff has put much more work into doing targeted outreach and alignment to leverage these resources.
In addition, even though many individuals are ready to do the hard work of creating change, we often find there are environmental factors that are hard to control and influence. Some of these can be resolved when we help the participant find the right resources. Other factors, such as current laws regarding previous felonies and immigration, are more difficult to resolve. Although LINC continues to do advocacy to better serve our participants, there is much work to be done in the areas of self-development, capacity building and systems collaboration.
What really differentiates this program?
On an individual level, Community LINC provides a great opportunity to work with amazing residents and parents that might have remained in poverty for a myriad of different reasons. One thing LINC prides itself on is our ability to meet people where they are. This takes shape in the diverse backgrounds of our staff, reflecting the neighborhoods in which we serve. It is evident in the personal success plans created and tailored to meet the specific needs of every individual in Community LINC. And it allows us the pleasure of never having to say “no.” Community LINC is designed to align resources and organizations to overcome barriers that are facing the families in our community. For some it may be the need for a GED, another may need credit repair, workforce development or quality childcare.
We are committed to meeting people where they are and walking with them to where they want to be. 
We are committed to meeting people where they are and walking with them to where they want to be.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Keys to the success of Community LINC are connectivity, collaboration, authentic relationship building and working holistically to impact individuals, families and communities.  
Community LINC’s asset-based development approach is holistically meeting the needs of families while working to utilize the strength and wisdom of residents to shift the social conditions of our neighborhoods. In doing this, we are breaking the cycle of poverty – not just for families, but for the entire community.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
The seeds of thought that feed the innovative work of LINC are pulled from both national models and trends for holistic and equitable change efforts and from the indigenous wisdom of the communities we are working in. LINC strongly believes in lifting and empowering the community voice to advocate for change. Individuals and families are intimately aware of barriers they are facing, and they also hold the answers and strategies to overcome those obstacles.
History has taught us what has not and is not currently working. It is clear that real change will require collaboration, flexibility, time and must be driven by the people that will be most deeply impacted by the change. If the work is approached in this light, we cannot guarantee that it will work right away or that direction, focus or approach will not change. It will guarantee that the work is informed by the community and when changes are necessary, they are made to elicit the most effective outcome. 
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