For the past four years, Gillgren Communication Services, Inc. (GCSI) has been providing project design, grant writing, implementation, training and technical support for deploying Web and social media resources to support community engagement through the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition.

The Coalition, and the neighborhood as a whole, is at the threshold of a new phase in its journey, riding the converging energies of major advances, largely due to locally driven initiatives and leadership, including a new International Bacalrueaat program at Rainier Beach High School, the re-opening of the Rainier Beach Community Center, new momentum by Rainier Square (formerly the Rainier Beach Merchants Association), and emerging leadership and networking by Rainier Beach Moving Forward.

So it’s a good time to review learnings from projects in which GCSI directly participated, including the central role played by community youth in leading the way, to identify potential future contributions to Rainier Beach as well as to other organizational settings.

NewWireRainier Beach 2.0: Lift Every Voice

This initial project focused on establishing the structural framework for exchanging information and strengthening relationships, including the upgrading of an existing Web site and creating social media profiles, as well as arranging for donations of SalesForce and Vertical Response licenses. Under the banner of the “Lift Every Voice Campaign,” the overall strategy was to open channels for facilitating the flow of communications among community-building efforts by increasing the number of people sharing  information “closer to the action,” and creating a public “trail” of documentation toward rebalancing the public narrative. In addition to training local activists to post announcements and reports on the Web site, a near-real-time “headline” service, the Rainier Beach NewsWire (a Twitter list of entrusted sources) was launched and displayed on the Web site.

FreedomNet Citizen Journalists on the job

SE Seattle FreedomNet

SE Seattle FreedomNet was designed to take advantage of the ease with which youth have been adopting social media to demonstrate what was possible while creating online portfolios of contributions by the youth themselves. The RB 2.0 infrastructure, including a Web site with associated Youtube and Flickr libraries, was set up. With the support of the Center for Ethical Leadership, a PhotoVoice project immediately immersed the youth in capturing images and creating storyboards focused on community assets for education. A team of 8-10 youth then continued providing coverage for neighborhood activities, using iPads, digital cameras, and smartphones, and contributed hundreds of headlines from neighborhood meetings and events. FreedomNet citizen journalists also provided the Seattle anchor team for youth participation in the Equal Voices for Families 2012 Online Convention, produced videos for the Rainier Beach Touchstones project, and joined in the Transit Justice Youth Corps.

Black Masters of Social Artistry, RBArtBeats

This special, shorter term, SE Seattle FreedomNet project focused on the role of the arts, with a special emphasis on African American roots, in building community through the publication of a monthly online magazine, #RBArtBeats. Youth documented events and activities through photos and videos and directly engaged in community spoken word, dance, and music events.

Rainier Beach Story Guild

This special project under SE Seattle FreedomNet and funded by a City of Seattle Work-Readiness in the Arts initiative, built on the experience of the Black Masters of Social Artistry by enlisting a professional, neighborhood-based story teller/dramatist/spoken word performer to guide a group of youth in developing story-telling skills for personal and community enrichment, using SE Seattle FreedomNet equipment and online resources. Youth participated in public readings under the aegis of the Seattle Story Guild and the African American Writers Alliance, conducted interviews with leading community activists and documented key community events, such as the Grand Opening of the Rainier Beach Community Center.

RB Story Guild production session at RB Wisdom Commons

Rainier Beach Wisdom Commons

The Wisdom Commons was established to provide a physical hub with additional equipment (an iMac, three iPad minis, a digital camera, and digital camcorder) to build on and extend opportunities for training, technical support, and collaboration for both youth and adults. Housed at Urban Impact, the Wisdom Commons became the production center for the Rainier Beach Story Guild, a meeting space for the Transit Justice Youth Corps, and the coordination and support center for the administrative staff of Rainier Beach Moving Forward, with a special focus on training local administrators to manage and utilize data housed in SalesForce and produce email campaigns using Vertical Response.