Middlesex United Way: Creating systemic change for single parents in poverty

Editor’s note: This week’s column is guest written by Middlesex United Way intern Kaitlin Binnington. President and CEO Kevin Wilhelm will return next week.

MIDDLETOWN — In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Middlesex County and the rest of Connecticut have taken tremendous leaps toward working from an asset-based and strengths-based framework, rather than the traditional deficit model.

We’ve made masks for our essential workers and most vulnerable. We’ve created opportunities for businesses and schools to work together to bring food to our children and people in poverty. We’ve raised money through both the statewide COVID-19 Response Fund and the local 2020 ALICE fund to give to those suffering the most because of the coronavirus.

We’ve even changed our entire method of functioning to a virtual model to keep those around us safe. And most of all, we’ve come together to love and serve one another in one of the most desolate times in recent history. It’s incredible.

Throughout this pandemic, Middlesex United Way has been given so many new opportunities and new ways to serve the community outside its normal capacity, and, as an intern, I’ve enjoyed and appreciated having the chance to learn these new processes and skills. I’ve used my internship platform over the past few weeks to partner with Middletown Works.

A program designed to create systemic change for single parents in poverty within our community, to begin the work of asset mapping using an appreciative inquiry model. When asked about why Middletown Works is interested in asset mapping, program director Rebecca Lemanski said, “Asset mapping, using the asset based community development model is needed now, more than ever.

“As we see COVID-19 ravaging low income, marginalized, communities, it is imperative for neighborhood leaders to focus on capacities, gifts and assets within a community. Middletown Works mirrors this approach, as we are relationship driven and as we intentionally build relationships with lower income individuals and families, they become partners with us and become invested in helping to co-create a new, more prosperous vision for their community,” Lemanski said.

“Middletown Works recognizes the importance of this and affirms the great work already going on in our community. In fact, one of our values is collaborative leadership. The bottom line is this: what we focus on is what we find. If we search for assets, we will find assets,” she added.

Asset mapping is exactly what it sounds like: We are creating a map of the strengths and assets in our community around workforce development, economic development and education.

Shanay Fulton, the asset mapping manager with Middletown Works, and I have come together to create a team of people who live, work, and worship in Middletown to be a part of this asset mapping process.

Taking an approach of asset mapping allows for us as a community to look toward our preferred future through a methodology of asking questions that focus on identifying our preferred future, our dreams, and our desires.

By using appreciative inquiry and asset mapping, we have the opportunity to develop the strengths that we already possess to get to where we desire to be.

Wilhelm is excited about asset mapping and collaboration: “Middlesex United Way believes in understanding and utilizing the strengths of the community so that everyone thrives. Asset mapping helps identity strengths and gaps. We need to enhance our strengths and close the gaps that exist.

“I’m excited to see the outcome of the asset mapping when it is completed, as it will inform our opportunities to serve our communities even more effectively,” Wilhelm added.

The work that we’ve started as a community since the outbreak of the coronavirus does not have to stop once we reconvene to normal life. The work that we’re doing with the asset mapping will help us to continue to build each other up using our strengths and assets to build into our dreams and desires for a preferred future.

If you are interested in participating in the Asset Mapping project, please contact me at kaitlin_binnington1@baylor.edu or at 860-990-5444.

Kaitlin Binnington is a student at Baylor University and member of the Middlesex United Way Young Leaders Society.