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Leveling Up: 'COIL' Empowers the Community Leaders Among Us

Published February 1, 2019
  • Community Education

Coli2-smallCreating positive, change in our communities may seem like an overwhelming prospect, reserved for high-ranking officials in formal leadership roles.  

Yet HHSA’s Community Organizers know from their grassroots experience that Shasta County has a diverse cast of informal leaders, many of whom may just need a little assistance to become powerful change agents.

With that in mind, they developed the Community Organizer Institute for Leadership, or COIL, to teach local residents  tools and techniques to coordinate cooperative campaigns that promote the interests of their community.

“So many aspects of community life influence our health. The more power you have in shaping your community, the better you’ll be able to build strength,” said Charlene Ramont, Community Development Coordinator.

The community organizers developed the curriculum for COIL by incorporating lessons from their own experiences and by conducting research on existing trainings. The COIL sessions are being held every other month and are divided into eight 6-hour sessions.

In the latest meeting this January, the class discussed how they could work with a school district to examine their discipline policies. They brainstormed and organized tasks and action steps, developed a list of potential allies and blockers and discussed different methods of engaging and coordinating diverse groups of neighbors.

Here are some of the thoughts about what they’re learning from the first COIL Cohort.

Anne and Khai

Anne KhaiAnne: I ‘ve always had this natural instinct to talk to people, and my passion is developing opportunities and help for youth, especially those struggling with drugs and alcohol. I had some struggles as a young person, and I saw it with my sons: the lack of support, the suspensions. . .in the past, when I would go to school meetings, I wasn’t encouraged to give my opinion. They made me think they didn’t want to hear from me.

But I’ve had great mentors in (HHSA Community Organizers) Sylvia Yzaguirre and Christine Haggard, and they encouraged me to join COIL. I realized I like to come up with a solution and zoom ahead . This has really taught me how to do one task, do it well and take it step by step.

It will also give us the ability to connect with real community people and to bridge the gaps between us and them.

Khai: This county does have a sort of stigma against authority figures, but because we’re part of the community, we can relate to them and gain their trust. You have to be able to speak to community in a way they’re willing to hear. What I like about this training is it’s teaching us how to help the members of a community rise up together.

I grew up here, and I was a very bored kid. When I came back, I wanted to work with troubled youth and tie that work to other projects that build healthy communities like permaculture or sustainability efforts. People here are very wonderful, but they’re very disconnected from each other.

This training is teaching us to connect with community. They’re giving us tools, like how to conduct one to one meetings with an important person or how to organize house meetings to gather everyone, organize all of their ideas and put them into action.

Kathy and Alexandria

Kathy and AlexandriaAlexandria: The class is amazing. You hear the term community organizer, and you think of someone who knows exactly what to do all the time. But in this training you realize they have to figure it out at times, and that just made me feel like it was possible for me to do this too. 

Nutrition is really important to me. I want to make it easier for people to have access to healthier food, so I’m hoping to use skills from these classes to pursue projects related to that.

All the hands-on trainings really stand out to me. Today, with the strategy chart we made, it’s such a great way to understand where you’re going, if it’s realistic or not, and what the next step is.

Kathy: The Community Organizers have taken their years and years of experience, broken it down and made it easy to follow.

The instructors are amazing. They’re all so different, but they all have a heart for people. When you have people who are invested in and love they do, it motivates you too.

I know how to gather people, but I’ve learned a lot about how to work with different kinds of people. Christine Haggard told us about a time she was working with farmers and how she had to work to identify the person in the group who had the influence to get things done. There’s always a group leader and learning tactics like that have been eye-opening.

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