Guest Blog Post: Amazed!

Beatriz-Paniego-Béjar_2Beatriz Paniego Béjar, Communications, UnidosNow On January 14th, an email from Colleen McGue, Community Data Initiative Manager at SCOPE, landed in UnidosNow’s inboxes with the subject: “Collaboration between SCOPE and UnidosNow”. What could that mean? The email was intriguing enough to get UnidosNow’s team thrilled about the idea of plugging in with SCOPE, especially considering UnidosNow’s objective to further understand and develop the Latino community!

During a meeting a few weeks later, we learned about the incredible project SCOPE wanted to initiate, and they wanted to get it started with UnidosNow! The idea was to get a group of 10-12 Hispanics living in Sarasota county in a room and ask them, directly, what their aspirations were, what their concerns were, what they would do to improve their neighborhoods, what they expected from their community…

This “Community Conversation” – a complete new approach for UnidosNow – sought to learn not only how community members felt about their community, but also what they dreamed it could be like, a method created by the Harwood Institute.

As much as we were excited, our organization was unsure about our population's participation in this kind of event, knowing that many in our community might feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with someone they do not trust. However, John McCarthy’s expertise, as well as Colleen McGue and Sandy Benz as facilitators, made the room feel relaxed and safe for the participants to talk and share their ideas.

In looking for the right participants, UnidosNow thought that this first conversation should be in English to have SCOPE’s team leading it more comfortably. The downside of this approach was that only the younger Latino generations were going to be able to join. Thus, we had a crowd of people ranging from 17 to 32 years old, which, on the other hand, was a perk since they feel more integrated in the American society and it was easier for them to open-up and speak-up.

The whole experience was extremely educational for our group from the very beginning. The Community Conversation made us realize how setting the right environment, asking the right questions, and showing an open mind, made the participants feel comfortable, secure, and willing to have an open conversation with people they didn’t even know.

It was an amazing experience, seeing the development of the room unfolding, feeling more and more at ease, enjoying the conversation, and opening their eyes to things they’ve never thought of before. There were very few moments during the two-hour long conversation when the room was quiet. The Community Conversation method enabled the participants to speak from their hearts and minds, and they felt grateful for it.

Now, UnidosNow wants to continue using this model to keep on learning about our community’s aspirations, fears, and desires, to keep on serving them the best way possible. And we couldn’t have done it without the great insights and leadership from SCOPE.

Beatriz Paniego Béjar, Communications, UnidosNow:  Originally from Spain, Beatriz graduated in journalism from the University of Valencia. She worked as a reporter for the weekly Tampa Bay newspaper 7DÍAS [], as the editor of Southwest Florida magazine, D’Latinos Magazine [www.] and currently in the Department of Communications at UnidosNow.