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The Many Faces of Community Development–Revisited

Often when community development is discussed, it is naturally assumed that economics will be included. Most of the time this is the case, but it does not have to be overt as in the case of job creation. Nor does it necessarily have to be at a macro level.(1) I am trained to observe “community” or capacity building in all forms and at all levels.
Much of my training stems from grassroots training I received while serving in the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. I believe in my heart we changed lives, but when I recently returned on a UF-sponsored research trip, I realized that many of our changes did not “stick” in many ways over the long-run. This story is an update regarding the progress of change that so far seems to be sticking on a micro level over a 10-year period in a small Alachua County (FL) town.
Some outlying areas in Alachua County are quite small in size and far enough away from Gainesville that the local services offered can be highly valued because they allow residents to avoid sometimes having to drive “into town” twice in the same day (if they work in Gainesville). One such service in one such small, outlying town is offered by a martial-arts facility. It’s now in the 17th year of offering lessons locally. During the 16-plus years of offering martial-arts lessons, three couples have met there, married, and now have children. However, a cadre of second- and third-degree black belts recently tested, and members earned their new ranks after, in some cases, nearly a decade of training together. They are now teenagers, but when they began training they were mere children early in their elementary years.
The training of the students is not the facility’s sole impact on this small community; the families have come to bond with one another. They travel to other Florida locations and states to allow their children to compete and observe at other martial-arts facilities, and other facilities bring their members and families to do the same, here, at this small town’s facility. The local facility has grown and is largely run by two of its original students who are now adult, fourth-degree black belts. So, there is certainly economic components to this story that can be teased out of it.(2)
One of the most impactful community development components of this story is that some students arrive at this facility to learn how to control their excess energy and inability to focus. Medication is not the prescription offered here. Instead, science-based kinesthetic movements and patterns are taught that require the left hemisphere of the brain to interact seamlessly with the right, training muscle-memory motor skills, which can be learned in few places nowadays—especially in small towns.

(1) Defined as “…A planned effort to build assets that increase the capacity of residents to improve their quality of life…” (Green & Haines, 2012).
(2) There was even a brief period where another facility was opened closer to Gainesville to accommodate more students, but that business model did not prove to be in the best interest of the owner/Master.