As a member of the Young Leaders United Exec Council I was asked to take part in a Turning Outward exercise on June 4th. I was excited, motivated, encouraged and also terrified.

We went door-to-door in neighborhoods around Eastlawn Elementary to ask a series of five simple questions.  Our goal was to capture what peoples aspirations are and what an ideal community looked like, what is important to them and what improvements could be made.

So, why was I excited?  I was pleasantly surprised to be ASKED what was important to me. Usually, I am told what is important in my community.  You know the ritual “We need to keep our neighborhoods safe and our children off drugs!” kind of things.  But, nobody ever asked me what is truly important in my ideal neighborhood (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for safety and drug-free children!).  We are often subject to a prescription for what the ideal community looks like when we aren’t truly aware of all of the symptoms.  The mass of community data we have is plentiful and data mining is great, but you can’t replace a human sharing their sincere aspirations and concerns for the community.  ASKING people what MATTERS to them got me motivated.  It’s energizing to be part of an initiative that makes everybody feel important and empowered, because everyone in our community is important and powerful.

Remember how I said I was terrified?  Yes, going door-to-door and interrupting the lives of strangers had me on edge.  I am a relatively outgoing person, but this made me very uncomfortable.  Fortunately, the United Way staff is always supportive and I brought along a friend (Thanks Sarah!) to make it more comfortable.  Turning Outward’s true cause made me push aside my fear to take part.  And I am SO GLAD that I did that!  It was actually a very easy and fun activity!

The conversations flowed naturally and most people were honored and pleasantly surprised to be asked and to be heard.  After they realized I wasn’t selling anything they were happy to chat .  It was eye-opening to see what was truly important to people.  We heard things like the importance of clean streets, peace and quiet, connecting with neighbors, local shopping and being able to leave a bike in the yard unlocked.  These aren’t things necessarily captured from data mining. They are learned by taking the time to listen.