Skip to main content

Engage!: Collaborative Community and Organizational Capacity Building for Mutual Learning

By John Dempsey Parker, Rural Faith Communities Senior Fellow

Will you join us? Since 2015, the IEI rural faith team has engaged faith and community leaders through: 

  • supportive guidance and technical assistance, 
  • nurturing issue-oriented and place-based networks, 
  • encouraging civic engagement and community collaborations, as well as,
  • convening diverse forms of gatherings for mutual learning, sharing and partnership opportunities.

We support faith communities for increased community engagement and collaboration through a process that assists them with identifying and understanding the root causes of community issues, developing community action plans, and implementing those plans. Ultimately, we aim to nurture relationships and mutual learning among community anchors that are increasingly connected, collaborative, adaptive and thriving!

Our peer network groups that meet multiple times a year have included the following topics:

  • education: specifically early childhood education, literacy, youth development, workforce development (job training), educational attainment (high school, young adults and career transitions)
  • health: mental health, substance use recovery, behavioral health, COVID response and community recovery
  • community food systems engagement and partnerships
  • cross-cultural engagement and partnerships, including tackling organizational and community issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, belonging and collaborative leadership
  • affordable housing
  • stewardship and fundraising (ministry and money, economics)

Most of the time, the role of economics, money and diversity, equity and inclusion emerge or get folded into the conversations and engagements around most topics. Check out IEI’s Project Resilience. Of course, we hope to positively influence quality of life issues and address social mission priorities. The issues we’ve engaged over the past couple of years include the multitude:  partnerships, collaboration and engagement around pandemic adaptations, public health outreach and education, caregiving, healthy aging, eldering, disaster preparedness, digital equity and inclusion, loneliness, mental health, vocational and work transitions, as well as food insecurity, justice and sovereignty.

Through the ReCONNECT NC Initiative (2018-2021), we’ve contributed in assisting the IEI larger team in engaging 26 community cohorts from across the state addressing a variety of issues, supporting them with tailored education around capacity building, strategic planning, storytelling and tackling issues related to collective impact. Please (re)visit our ReCONNECT NC report. It’s worth your time.

During the ReCONNECT for the Future Forum in February 2021, participatory and interactive capacity building workshops were virtually convened to address a variety of topics and support the urgent and future needs of nonprofit organizations, local governments, and cross-sector community collaborations. These sessions connected stakeholders, decision-makers and change agents from the civic and nonprofit sectors, faith communities, government and business community. Reflecting the diversity of North Carolina, these sessions oriented and equipped participants to creatively tackle the present and courageously engage the future. Building off the ReCONNECT NC themes and lessons learned, these sessions were educational, practical and inspiring, catalyzing action.  

Moving forward, we’re weaving together and connecting the dots more around local, regional and state priorities. This place-based focus emerged from working across the urban and rural divisions and the need to promote and strengthen connectivity, mutual learning and collaboration within regions and across the state. In partnership with local faith communities, the NC Council of Churches, nonprofits, the NC Center for Nonprofits, regional councils of government (COGs), workforce development boards, and Area Health Education Centers, among others, we’ll help support collaboratives with faith and community leadership. 

Recently, we’ve engaged and participated in public-private partnerships, community initiatives and social movements from our friends at Peletah Ministries and the ENC Collaborative church and community resiliency regional Juneteenth event, the Beloved Community Center and the NC Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation initiative, plus the new Poor People’s Campaign gathering in DC that originated in NC’s Moral Monday movement.  

We’re also engaged with the RISE initiative – Regions Innovating for Strong Economies and Environment, a collaboration between the NC Rural Center and NCORR. We hope you’ll learn more about it here: RISE. There will be public meetings that need your engagement and involvement in August and September, depending on which region you live and work in, so explore, engage and stay tuned.

To be in communication around all of this work—to discuss these and more of the lessons learned, or if you have questions, feedback and ideas, particularly if you’re curious about collaboration, partnerships and alliances, please contact: John Dempsey Parker, IEI senior fellow at or Get and stay engaged!