Community in Action
Examples of programs, policies, and tools in action.

A Northern Michigan Community Explores Its Assets and Resources

January 9, 2018

Members of Oscoda County’s CHOICES partnership were well aware of the challenges facing their rural Northern Michigan community. What they needed to understand was what resources they already had.

“We needed to focus on what we have and not on what we don’t have,” said Jan Schleicher, certified health coach and co-chair for CHOICES. “We needed to change the conversation and the mentality.”

The CHOICES partnership – which stands for Creating Healthy Outcomes by Improving, Connecting and Empowering for Success – embarked on a community asset mapping project to identify resources in the county. The partnership turned to the Asset-Based Community Development resources developed by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, at DePaul University’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute, to guide their process.

Because Oscoda County has unique geography, with large swaths of forest bordering community “assets,” the CHOICES committee opted for a list-generating process, rather than creating geographic maps. The members met monthly to establish categories of community assets (individuals, organizations, associations, institutions, and physical assets). Between meetings, committee members visited many places in person to gather information and to expand their list of assets.

The CHOICES leaders also began asking about the gifts individual members bring to the partnership. Using additional guidance from Asset-Based Community Development, partnership leaders asked members to list:

  • Gifts of the Head -- knowledge or information
  • Gifts of the Hands -- practical skills
  • Gifts of the Heart – things they care deeply about

Creating a picture of resources available to tackle health challenges—and checking on positive steps already in progress—has helped this community of 8,000 people identify opportunities to build on what’s working, see what gaps exist, and strengthen connections.

Asset mapping also built momentum for CHOICES to host events like Project Connect, which brought local agencies, law enforcement, health care providers, schools, and university representatives together. The one-day event drew about 150 community members, strengthened connections between the groups and raised residents’ awareness of community resources. CHOICES plans to grow the annual Project Connect in accordance with their mission to foster collaboration around health.

The committee hopes their efforts will continue to “open doors” for collaboration. Another next step will be the implementation of a Photovoice project for youth in Oscoda County. Photovoice fits with CHOICES’ goals, which include giving a platform to less-heard groups in the community, like teens. The Photovoice work will ensure that assets valued by youth in Oscoda County are recognized.

The asset mapping project renewed the partnership’s focus on positive features of Oscoda County, serving as a reminder of the many resources in rural communities which can promote and sustain health.

Contact info for CHOICES: [email protected]