As the Improvement & Expansion Fellow for GrizzlyCorps, I recently spent several weeks interviewing (nearly) all of our service members and their host supervisors. During these interviews, I asked a set of targeted questions that aimed to provide insight into the progress and impact of our fellows’ work.
Each GrizzlyCorps fellow, with the support of their host organization, spends their first few weeks in service producing a Gap Assessment and identifying ~1-6 capacity-building goals that they will work on throughout their 11-month term of service. Through the implementation of these capacity-building goals, GrizzlyCorps hopes to support rural communities and our partners strengthen community resilience and take bold climate action.
The primary goal of my interviews was to investigate whether each fellow’s capacity-building goals has a clear direction, addresses a true community need, and has the potential to bolster community resilience and climate action through our two focus areas—fire and forest resilience, and regenerative agrifood systems. In addition to unpacking some of these complex impact issues, I also learned a lot about the challenges and barriers our fellows are facing, how we can better support them, and the differences of perception that persist across fellow and supervisor perspectives.
Perhaps the most striking contrast of these interviews was that our partners draw a much stronger correlation from their fellows’ work to building community resilience. Our fellows’ supervisors overwhelmingly responded that their GrizzlyCorps members’ work directly correlates to improving community resilience and is making a significant impact. They noted that fellows were doing vital work to build capacity within their organizations and positively impact their ability to serve communities. Some of the most critical work they noted involved data collection and dissemination, producing education and outreach materials, bolstering media presence and communication strategies to broaden their reach, and providing programmatic support on a variety of regenerative agriculture, fire resilience, and other climate-focused initiatives.
Despite the importance of our fellows' work, it was commonly expressed that they find it difficult to perceive that they are contributing to their communities or making a valuable impact. While this feeling was not universal, it taught our team an important lesson about how we approach the topics of capacity-building and community-oriented work with our fellows. We recognize that it is difficult to see any end goal come to fruition in an 11-month stint of service. We also understand that the nature of capacity-building work is a long-term investment that often occurs behind the scenes, making it difficult for anyone to perceive the real-world impact they are having.
Learning about this misconception has encouraged the GrizzlyCorps team to re-think our priorities and approach to training and orienting new fellows into our program. While capacity-building is an important service we provide to our partners, we hope to spend more time with each of our fellows discussing the importance of capacity-building work and the principles of sustainable and resilient communities. We also hope to provide greater support that will facilitate the process of self-evaluation and help all members feel fulfilled in their work. We are sure this will be a work in progress, but we look forward to spending more time discussing community resilience, impact-driven work, and capacity building in our first few days of orientation with our next cohort this fall. In the future, we will also correlate each of our Quarterly Progress Report assignments with a one-on-one meeting that will allow us to touch base with our fellows, reinforce the impact they are having, and ask them to consider how their work might be re-oriented if it is not directly focused on community or climate impacts.
In addition to this important finding, my interviews shed light onto the enormous breadth of work our fellows are doing in rural regions across California that is setting up their organizations and communities to be more resilient in the face of climate change long after they leave. The process also exposed the importance of fellows being formally introduced into the communities and organizations they serve. As a young professional joining small farm and forest communities, a simple endorsement from their organization can help them overcome many of the barriers to engaging in community-oriented work in a rural setting.
Lastly, we would like to express that while much was uncovered in this process, we look forward to continually improving our program and finding new ways to analyze the collective impact of our work.