By Sean Barron
A key factor in positively transforming communities is for people to engender a belief in themselves so they’re better poised to look more outward, an author and an authority on community improvement contends.
“We need to restore our belief in ourselves that we can get things done together,” Richard C. Harwood, founder and president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, said during his presentation Tuesday to about 150 community activists, agency heads and others at the main branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, 305 Wick Ave.
Harwood’s appearance kicked off the 2013 National Work of Hope Tour, a 15-month campaign his organization is conducting that will visit 20 to 25 communities, noted Jim Cooney, the Harwood Institute’s communications manager.
The tour is to empower people to make positive differences in their communities and to work closely with entities that have a vested interest in those areas, Cooney explained.
“I believe Youngstown can be a beacon of hope for the rest of the country,” Harwood said.
Harwood, author of several books, including “The Work of Hope,” noted many people feel bereft of hope and community- mindedness in a society that’s obsessed with instant gratification and often encourages people to blame and demonize others instead of working together to solve problems.
“If we are to move forward, we need to return to the basics,” such as developing a deeper compassion toward one another and working more closely for the common good, Harwood explained.
Other means to accomplish that goal include becoming more adept at reflecting others’ aspirations and creating the conditions for communities to be more innovative, he continued.
In addition, Harwood said, it’s vital that Youngstown and other areas adopt a narrative that connects with their past as well as where they are and need to go. For example, downtown Youngstown’s renaissance, including the Youngstown Business Incubator, local community gardens and a greater number of young people visiting downtown collectively say a lot about the area, he noted.
“The most precious gift each of us has is that urge to do good,” Harwood said, adding that its power also lies in people’s ability to be part of something bigger than themselves.