Key Take-Aways

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel: work with existing organizations to utilize their knowledge and resources.
  • Find collaborators that are existing stakeholders in the community.
  • Invite collaborators to help develop, as well as attend, programming.


If establishing a space for community media is the goal, working with existing structures and media presence is a good way to strengthen curricula and build support for participants. Look to elicit community members working in media, such as local newspapers, radio, and/or public access television. Their experience can be beneficial for brainstorming and curriculum development, but also for creating partnerships for creative media outlets. Further, invite these collaborators to actively participate in workshops. This could give participants interested in community media a chance to connect with professionals who are already working (having a professional presence or collaborating with professionals can also help with fostering trust and credibility). Beyond professionals, look for collaborators who are stakeholders in the community, or who provide cultural value, such as local historians or storytellers. These collaborators can go along way toward helping participants understand the value of their own community, the power of voice, and how storytelling can lead to empowerment.

Suggestions for future work

  • Collaborate with existing media organizations to offer community members visits, tours and other opportunities to see how media works and to interact with the professionals actually doing journalism on a day-to-day basis. The opportunity to see how a newspaper, radio, television, or web newsroom works could inspire community members as well as giving them access to contacts and personalities within the media.
  • Actively involve stewards of community culture in curricula involving storytelling and digital storytelling.  Inviting them as active collaborators can help organizers from outside the site’s community better understand the community’s existing voice and its cultural history.  These stakeholders can also assist with recruitment, tapping into their own network of community contacts.

Case studies

Overview: Taking a day-long trip to East St Louis, prior to the week workshop, in order to meet with community leaders and workers in public media was beneficial to building a scaffolding for collaboration and engagement. We spoke with two professionals in public access TV, both of whom were eager to find space in their programming schedules for both youth-targeted and youth-created programs. These introductory meetings have opened the doorway for further intersections and collaborations between the youth content creators we worked with, and professionals already embedded in the community who are ready and willing to help amplify their voice. We also met with a local historian and community stakeholder, himself a long-time resident of East St. Louis. After understanding our project and objectives, he agreed to meet our youth participants and engage in an interviewing workshop with them. Hearing his life story and his stories about their city significantly helped the youth understand not just the power of storytelling, but that their city had an important and untold history. That understanding newly sparked their interest in telling their own stories on the Youth News blog we created for them.

In Champaign, our Dorsey Homes community partner, Ms. Margaret Neil, was instrumental in making our project work. She distributed our fliers advertising events, and she recruited participants for the project based on her own knowledge of people’s interests and abilities. She also shared with us her vision for the project and made her goals very clear. Without Ms. Margaret, our project would have been nearly impossible–or, at the very least, completely different.

Expanded Case Study

East St. Louis

At MBC we collaborated with Vera Jones, Terry Scott, and Janine Villard (director and coordinators, respectively).  We worked with them first to establish goals and objectives for the students; we also tried to tease out organization dynamics. Prior to our arrival in East St. Louis, we requested that they select students for our workshop since they have working knowledge of the interests, literacies and attentions spans (an important factor, we found, when engaging with youth) of the students that attend their program.  In response, they selected counselors in hopes that they would acquire these skills and transition from students to teachers, and thus pass on those skills to other students at the Mary Brown Center, now and in the future.  We believe in the hope that this approach will help the sustainability of programming like this at the center.  They also selected some focused, younger students who they thought would do well in the workshop.

Irma Golliday, the director of ESL park district, introduced us to some of her staff and explained her goals and objectives for the week-long workshop.  We also met with Knetra Nelson, the camp coordinator, regarding our plan for the week.  She introduced us to the counselors, whom we approached first to participate in our workshop.  In the end, it turned out that the younger students who dropped into our workshop were the ones that stayed engaged.

Champaign / Urbana

At Joann Dorsey Homes, we worked with Margaret Neil, who is both a resident and activist in the community. As cited in her bio, Ms. Neil created the Resident Council at Dorsey, a group of residents that meet regularly to talk about neighborhood issues. She also became a national speaker and consultant for programs to empower those in public housing. Ms. Neil has coordinated programs at Dorsey to serve children after school, assist teen mothers, and educate and assist residents to find work, working towards breaking the cycle of poverty. These activities led to the creation of a community center at Dorsey/BMK named for her, the Margaret A. Neil Community Center. Margaret sits on the Board of the Housing Authority of Champaign County (‘HACC’) as a Housing Coordinator, giving residents of public housing a voice on the council.  Ms. Neil has worked with numerous groups to help residents improve their lives, from writing the grant which allowed HACC to become a Move-to-Work facility, which allows them to better allocate their funding tailored to their needs. Ms. Neil also works with partners from Girl Scouts to the African American Student Center and the Graduate School for Library and Information Science among others. Ms. Neil has been given awards for Embracing Resident Empowerment Award, County Board of Champaign County Prestigious Community Service Award, Outstanding Volunteer Award from Workforce Investment Board of East Central Illinois, and two STAR Awards for Excellence in Community Service Neighborhood Leadership.’s relationship with Ms. Neil began in December 2010 when the organization was approached to create a storytelling program at Joann Dorsey, based on a request by Ms. Neil to help children document their community before their move out. Since then, visits Joann Dorsey Homes most Monday afternoons, either in casual conversation or impromptu project. This relationship has lead to coverage of issues in the community, as well as helping students produce audio slideshows. The Champaign group further developed a relationship with Ms. Neil through the work of the studio course. Despite the impending closure of Joann Dorsey Homes, plans to continue its relationship with Ms. Neil through weekly visits and further programming at central locations such as local libraries.

We also worked with Carol and Joe Lewis of Salem Baptist Church as part of this project. The Lewises are longtime members of Salem Baptist Church and sit on the church’s cyber-committee, which oversees programming of the church’s computer lab. The couple grew up in East Central Illinois and spent several years of their married life in Danville. Their history with the neighborhood and the church spans local civil rights movements and desegregation. They are very committed to their church family and are looking for ways to make the computer lab more attractive and more useful to their community. first met the Lewises in September 2010 when they approached the cyber-committee about weekly workshops at the lab. Though the relationships with the Lewises and other members of the cyber-committee in development since September, the Champaign group was able to engage the Lewises in conversations that helped better understand their goals for the lab as well as develop better programming for our weekly visits. will build upon the lessons learned from this course and offer more productive workshops during our weekly visits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *