Artwork referenced in the blog: Nothing About Us by Twin Cities artist activist Ricardo Levins Morales

Ana Clymer of United Way of East Central Iowa (UWECI) was one of the participants in Nexus Community Engagement Institute’s (NCEI) Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement series in the fall of 2017 – a four-part introduction to the field of community engagement.

Ana and her colleague, Laura Columbus, drove four hours for each session, giving them ample time to discuss how they may incorporate more community engagement principles and practices into UWECI’s work:

How does community engagement lead to equity? One example includes the age-old proverb, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” This may be true in some cases, but we need to ask, “Do people want to learn to fish?”, “Will teaching people to fish really solve the problem?”, and “Do people already know how to fish, and there’s another problem we can’t see?”

By asking these questions, we might learn people of the community won’t eat fish, or fish isn’t enough to sustain them, or the fish are not edible. If we don’t live there, we don’t know until we ask.

Check out Ana’s full blog here: “Community Engagement and Equity.”

Metro Transit staff photo credit: Bill Klotz

In the summer of 2016, Nexus along with other Community Engagement Team members (CURA and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability) supported 11 community-based organizations in engaging their communities to find out what bus stop improvements are important to them. The Better Bus Stops engagement process concluded in the spring of last year. Recently, Metro Transit announced changes to their policies that resulted from the engagement process:

“After receiving community feedback and reviewing wait time data we recently revised those guidelines. Under the new guidelines, shelters will be considered at any site where there are more than 30 boardings a day, with a priority on sites that have more than 100 daily boardings.

The guidelines also place a higher priority on locations that serve people with disabilities, older adults and those who are less likely to own a vehicle. Transfer points and boarding locations near healthcare or social service centers will also get greater consideration.

The new criteria are a clear demonstration of how equity, defined as equal access to opportunity for all, is guiding our work.”

Read the full story on Metro Transit’s blog

Reposted from the Neighborhood Funders Group member blog posted by Shannon Lin, January 22, 2018:

The Story of the Blue Line Coalition: How Philanthropy Can Promote Equity through Community Engagement


“When NFG members Nexus Community Partners and The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota heard that there was a light rail extension planned to connect Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, they knew there was an opportunity to leverage their resources to support community power in the process. 

Many of the neighborhoods that the light rail extension would pass through are home to a population of majority people of color and immigrants who would likely be left out of the conversation if traditional planning processes were followed. As Patrick Troska, Executive Director of the Phillips Family Foundation said, ‘If the community wasn’t engaged in this decision from the very start, then the outcomes the community needed wouldn’t have been accomplished.’

Nexus and Phillips are organizations committed to living out the values of community engagement and working alongside community leaders and organizations. They believe that every community member, especially those who have been historically oppressed or ignored, should have access to opportunities to influence decision-making that affects their lives. Using their resources to fund and support community engagement was critical to ensuring all of the community could benefit from this large public infrastructure investment.”

Read the full blog here

To answer this question, we turn to the story of the Blue Line Coalition:

With the landscape of our cities ever-changing, the Metro Blue Line light rail extension is planned to connect North Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, running through neighborhoods with a majority population of people of color and immigrants. Major infrastructural investments like the light rail extension will impact our communities for decades to come, with economic impacts in the billions.

There is a long and damaging history in this country of transit planning and development negatively impacting communities of color, especially historically African American communities.  We need look no further than the Rondo Community  in St. Paul, decimated by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1950’s and 60’s when highway planners failed to engage and listen to the concerns of the community. To ensure that this damaging pattern was not repeated, several community organizations came together in 2012 to form the Blue Line Coalition to advocate for community engagement in the planning process of the Blue Line light rail extension.

Today, Blue Line Coalition members have seen their impact on the policies and structure of the light rail plans, and in building community capacity. The Blue Line Coalition has created a couple of videos that demonstrate the power of community engagement as a key strategy to advance equity in our communities.

Check out the below video for a message to our partners in philanthropy about resourcing community engagement.

Watch the below video for a perspective from BLC member organizations on their experience organizing community.

Nexus is proud and excited to share that three of our community partners are receiving the 2017 Bush Prize for Community Innovation!

Congratulations to Appetite for Change, the Hmong American Farmers Association and the Latino Economic Development Center for the well-deserved recognition and added capacity for all your amazing work in community!

“Now in its fifth year, the Bush Prize celebrates organizations that are extraordinary not only in what they do but in how they do it. As models of true problem solving, they work inclusively, in partnership with others, to make their communities better for all.

“’The Bush Prize recognizes organizations that are creative, fierce and dogged in the way they work and in what they accomplish,” said Bush President Jennifer Ford Reedy. “As models for problem solving, they consistently pick a path of innovation that drives profound results for their communities.’” 

Read the entire announcement and learn about all seven 2017 Bush Prize winners from the Bush Foundation here. 


Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) Program Director Terri Thao and BCLI Alumna Sonya Lewis are hitting the road to help the State of MN promote the state boards and commissions!

Come to an upcoming information session in your region between now and December 14th to learn more about how you can connect, engage and participate in the policy decisions that impact YOU by serving on a state board, commission or task force! 

Click here to register for one of the information sessions!


  • Who should come? Anyone who is interested in learning about civic engagement, certainly young adults (18+) interested in learning more about this topic.
  • Why come? Learn about what opportunities are available to participate in and affect change at the state level.
  • Why serve?
    • Ability to shape and influence public policy through your knowledge and lived experience
    • Expand networks across the state
    • Understand how state government works, especially since there are several different agencies working on many different issues
    • Grow your personal & professional development skills
  • What do state boards and commissions do?
    • Review agency reports, state policies, plans and budget
    • Facilitate community input and incorporate public comments on policy
    • Research and inform the agency of critical issues
    • Make recommendations to agency
    • Make decisions on policies and implementation

Staff from the MN Department of Human Rights and Governor’s Office will be present too! Click on the following link to take you to the main page where you can register as well.

Register now!

Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement:
A 4-part Introduction to the Field of Community Engagement

Dates: November 10, November 17, December 1, December 8

Time: 9:00 am – 12 Noon

Where: UROC Room 107, 2001 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Register today – space is limited!


About the Series:

This workshop series is designed to deepen your knowledge, broaden your perspective, and sharpen your skills as you explore the potential for community engagement to create equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities. The sessions are for anyone who is interested in learning more about community engagement, or for those who wish to deepen their work with community.

Session Topics:

  • Session 1: What is Community Engagement? Why is it Important?
  • Session 2: The Link between Community Engagement and Equity 
  • Session 3: Effective Tools for Community Engagement
  • Session 4: Integrate Community Engagement into your Organization’s Work and Culture

Learning Goals:

  • Understand the principles and values of community engagement and how it differs from other practices, such as outreach and the traditional social service model.
  • Learn how community engagement can make your work more effective.
  • Utilize community engagement tools for building relationships, leadership, and ownership.
  • Explore how community engagement leads to equity and how understanding equity is essential for effective community engagement.
  • Assess your organization’s readiness and capacity to incorporate community engagement as an approach in your work.

Fee: A few scholarships are available, no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Contact Angie for details (see below).

  • Individuals: $450 for all four sessions
  • **Groups of 3-5 from one organization: $400 per person for all four sessions**

NOTEAttendance at all four sessions is required, as this is a cohort experience and each session builds upon previous sessions.

**Please do not register for more than 5 participants from one organization** – this is to ensure a mix of participants from various sectors and backgrounds for a rich, dynamic experience. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about this requirement.

Feedback from Previous “Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement” Participants:

  • “The series is a challenging, inspiring experience that anyone and everyone can learn and grow from.”
  • “I would recommend this workshop series….the conversations, connections, and knowledge learned will help them go from outreach to engagement; from equality to equitable approaches.”
  • “It’s very helpful both as an introduction to CE as well as providing more in-depth training for people already working in CE.”
  • “Prepare to be challenged and accept that what you’ve been doing needs a new perspective.”

About Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute: Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) is an initiative designed to advance and strengthen communities through equity-based community engagement, both locally and nationally. Click here to learn more about our work.

Facilitators and Presenters: The presenters and facilitators are staff and partners of Nexus Community Partners and Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute, which is continuing the work of the Building the Field of Community Engagement collaborative (BTF). Please forward this invitation to anyone who might be interested.

Contact Angie Brown at with questions or for more information about scholarships.


We are excited to have Chalonne join the Nexus family! She joined Nexus in July 2017 as the Program Coordinator of the Evaluation Fellows Program (EFP), which is part of the Community Engagement Institute in partnership with the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute at the University of MN. The EFP is designed for community engagement practitioners, evaluators, and funders to collaboratively explore the overlap of community engagement and program evaluation. Chalonne works closely with the EFP Advisory Group, the director of Nexus’s Community Engagement Institute, and the director of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute to develop and support programming and serve as a key resource for Fellows in the program. Please help us welcome Chalonne!

Angie Brown is Back at Nexus!

Nexus is very excited to announce that our fellow colleague, Angie Brown, couldn’t stay away for long, and has rejoined the Nexus family! Angie was hired in August as a Program Manager, and will be working on advancing and strengthening communities’ equity-based community engagement as part of the Community Engagement Institute. Please help us welcome Angie back!


Earlier this year, Nexus Community Partners launched a new initiative called the Community Engagement Institute, focused on building an equitable and just society by teaching and encouraging the practice of equity-based community engagement. The Institute’s vision is that all community members, especially those who have been historically oppressed and ignored, are engaged in and have authorship of their lives and future. Building on years of community engagement learning, practice, and funding experience, the Institute will be a local and national resource for expanding and deepening the practice of community engagement.

What is community engagement?

Communities, at their foundation, are about relationships. Communities form not only when people live near one another, but also when people spend time with one another, connect around common values, and create opportunities for one another. Communities are also complex, and some communities suffer from greater complexities than others. Racism, historical trauma, generational poverty, and chronic disinvestment slow progress in many communities. These challenges cannot be overcome quickly or easily. But when neighbors, organizations, and institutions develop deep and trusting relationships, these challenges can be diminished over time.

Authentic community engagement requires developing relationships within the community that are focused on long-term results rather than short-term gains. The practice is both about the power of individuals and about working together to create a healthy community. Perhaps most importantly, community engagement is a life-long commitment to a set of values that place equity and inclusion at the center. This means that people who live in low-wealth communities and communities of color should be integrally involved in decisions about their lives and their neighborhoods.

How did the Community Engagement Institute originate?

Nexus has a long-term commitment to authentic community engagement. Yet, despite our consistent advocacy for this work, we know that people struggle to understand how it differs from civic engagement, outreach, or organizing, and they struggle to define the impacts of community engagement. To address this, in 2012, Nexus brought together the knowledge and expertise of six multi-cultural community engagement organizations to create the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative (BTF). BTF captured new knowledge about the field, assessed its impact on transforming communities, and strengthened the case for integrating this work into other fields.

How is the Community Engagement Institute different?

The Community Engagement Institute is an evolution of the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative, and is a direct response to the growing demand for community engagement tools, knowledge and best practices from community-based organizations, government agencies, foundations, and institutions.

The Institute is designed to be a learning, practice, and leadership center for individuals, organizations, and institutions from across the country to learn about authentic community engagement. We are working with an advisory board of cross-sector experts to test new strategies that will support both local and national stakeholders in improving their community engagement practice. Some strategies include:

  • Introduction to community engagement workshop: We created a four-part introductory workshop series called Tapping the Potential that teaches participants the foundations of authentic community engagement.
  • Community of practice: We will look for more ways to develop a “community of practice” for community engagement practitioners. We know that people involved in changing systems and mindsets to facilitate community engagement need spaces to share strategies, and to dig deep into the challenges they face with others in the field. We’re building ways for community engagement practitioners to talk about opportunities for moving this work forward, along with difficulties in evaluation, navigating power, lack of support for their work within their organizations, and systemic barriers to change.
  • Consultation: We are developing consultation models to support organizations going deeper in their on-the-ground community engagement practice. We are developing tailored curricula and programs that will help institutions shift their culture, policies and practices.

The work will evolve over time as we learn. We remain open to innovation and centered in the goals of equity and inclusion as we grow. Our commitment is to honor, build upon, and grow what has come before and what is yet to come in partnership with on-the-ground community engagement practitioners.

To learn more, please visit