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In Oakland, a Network Tracks Nationwide Remedies

September 12, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK

OAKLAND — Pete Garcia has found innovative ways to build senior citizen housing and help small businesses in the 24 years he has run Chicanos por la Causa in Phoenix.

But now, thanks to a new network of community-based organizations throughout the nation, Garcia can share his successful techniques with fledgling agencies.

"Networking is a necessary way to make things happen," Garcia said. "That's the way we learned about half of the projects we have running now."

The National Community Build Network began in March, linking 18 community-based organizations through meetings, newsletters and seminars, and offering help in establishing programs. The network's goal is to influence local, state and national policy on community development.

"We're trying to bridge gaps between community residents, grass-roots-level workers and policy-makers by bringing diverse groups, not normally heard from, to the table," said Sheri Dunn Berry of the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, which coordinates the network.

Community Build Inc., a Los Angeles-based organization founded after last year's riots, joined the building network to share information with other groups in building an infrastructure that would affect public policy toward creating stronger communities.

The agency, the only Los Angeles organization in the network, focuses on job training, housing development and assistance for small-business owners in South Los Angeles.

"There were a number of large, community-driven intermediaries that shared the same philosophy of addressing these urban issues collectively, as a whole, which is important to dealing with these issues," said Brenda Shockley, executive director of Community Build.

The participating agencies were selected by network organizers based on their community work, how long they have existed and what ethnic and geographic areas they serve.

Representatives from the participating agencies meet several times a year to share information. Membership fees will be collected within the next year; the funds will pay for accommodations and administrative needs of the project, Berry said.

"We're interested in taking a holistic approach to strengthening families and building communities," she said. "But even more importantly, we're trying to work with policy-makers to infuse our way of thinking into policies of all levels."

Said James Gibson of the Urban Institute in Washington, which is also in the network: "There are community organizations all around the country that work in a vacuum to solve problems in their areas, not knowing that in another city there is a group that started the same thing and could help them get it off the ground."

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