Module 5: Engaging Communities

5.2 Learn About the Community

CommunityDefine Your Target Community

The word “community” can refer to:

  • The people who live within a geographic boundary
  • Those who are served by a certain agency or government
  • A group of people who have similar beliefs, a similar culture, or shared identity and experiences

Do some fact-finding about the community you'll be serving:

Once you have gathered this baseline data for your target community, you should begin to develop a community profile.

Ask yourself:

  • What is unique about this community?
  • What are the community’s resources, and what are its needs?
  • How might you address these needs?

How to Learn about a Community

  • Observe. If your community is located within geographic boundaries, walk or drive around to get an idea of its physical layout. Where do people gather? What types of stores are easily accessible? Which restaurants are popular? Where are service agencies such as WIC or Head Start located? What is being advertised in store windows and flyers? What language is used in the ads?
  • Ask questions. If you want to serve the community well, you must first find out what the people need. The best way to do this is to ask them. They may perceive their needs to be very different from the ones you might identify.
  • Tap community resources. People are your most important community resource. Identify community leaders to answer your questions about the community and to serve as spokespersons for your messages. These could be tribal leaders, elders, healers recognized by the community, or church leaders. Check with the WIC clinic, Head Start, community center, and local churches that provide services to immigrant groups for information about the cultural groups in the community. Public libraries can provide information about immigrant groups in an area.
  • Learn about “community markers.” To get an idea of the degree of acculturation, visit “community markers” such as local restaurants, churches, supermarkets, secondhand stores, and “store front” operations. Ethnic markets in the community suggest that people are still closely tied to the traditional foods of their culture.
  • Check out community groups. Informal community networks can provide valuable information about the community. These networks might include beauty parlors, lodges, block associations, senior citizens’ groups, parents’ groups associated with local schools or Head Start, women’s clubs, and auxiliaries frequently linked with men’s groups. Such groups may be quite influential at the grassroots level.
  • Attend functions. To get a feel for the community, attend functions such as church picnics, festivals, and socials; community events; yard sales; street or craft fairs; flea markets; sports activities; and local business and club gatherings. Visit schools and places of entertainment. Be sure to have a positive attitude and show interest in what is happening.

Locate ethnic food sources: Find out where foods that are familiar to your clients may be purchased. You can speak with operators of ethnic restaurants in your community to find out where they buy familiar spices and seasonings.

Go shopping: Visit a local supermarket, paying particular attention to the produce section and the meat and fish coolers. Notice what items are placed as “specials” or lead items at the ends of the aisles.

Identify Community Resources

Create a list of agencies that provide services to your population so that you can connect families with these programs as needed.

These federal programs provide nutrition education resources to families with young children: