What journalists can learn about community engagement from the church down the street

By Cassie Ronda

Thoshawdra Carnes by Yulanda Gilliam Williams

Rhoshawdra Carnes by Yulanda Gilliam Williams

Rhoshawndra Carnes is the director of family services for Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix. She also serves as a board member for AZ Common Ground, a nonprofit aimed toward reducing recidivism rates in the state.

Through her work at Pilgrim Rest, Carnes coordinates a variety of social service programs and partnerships. These include utility and rental assistance, a monthly mobile food pantry with St. Mary’s Food Bank and programs featuring artists-in-residence from ASU Gammage.

Carnes spoke with the PIN Bureau about how Pilgrim Rest engages with the community and what media organizations can learn from this.

Could you start by giving a little background about what you do here (at Pilgrim Rest)?

We have a series called “It Takes a Village,” and really that’s our way just to engage with the community on various topics. We’ve done things around health care — understanding the health care system and the accessibility to it. We’ve done “So You Wanna Be a Cop?” to try to increase the Phoenix police recruitment that’s going on right now.

How do you set those up? What do they look like?

“So You Wanna Be a Cop?” (event) was really based off of the city of Phoenix. … I sit on an African-American advisory board, and about maybe a year before they opened up the recruitment, there were a couple officers that came in to talk to the group and talked about them being excited for this open recruitment, and that they would really like to have a diverse police department to serve the community as it is, based on the numbers that are in the community. I just felt like, you can hear opportunities like that, and you can either complain, or you can partner. … “So You Wanna Be a Cop?” was done on a Saturday. It had about 20 police officers that actually came out. We had about 100 community members that actually came out and either they wanted to hear or they actually had an interest in being a police officer, so that was really impactful.

Are there any other unique tools that you have found that help you engage with the community or find out what their needs are?

I think the most important is that you have the conversations. Just the conversations you overhear— people speaking about other things.

Is there any way that local journalists could help with that, helping those people who want to know what’s going on and want to have a voice in it?

I think of, where is it that communities that you’re trying to address go to? African-Americans, they’re going to be at faith-based things, so churches. Or barbershops or salons, grocery stores, community centers. You go to recreational parks. … A soccer game, volleyball game, there’s people walking their dogs. Even going to community parks, or local Boys & Girls Clubs. I mean, go where the people are going to go, and provide them also the information about things that are really going to impact them as a community.

And then have (journalists) in the community. I think that’s just as important. We understand not everyone’s going to go to the building next door, which is our church. They’re just not, at the end of the day, and that’s fine. But we can have programs that are in the gym or in this building, or out in the parking lot, or over at the park. We’ll go to other places just to have that presence. So I think (journalists) also got to be okay with taking stuff outside their comfort zone, too.

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