Value of community engagement in spotlight at Florida Neighborhoods Conference

June 21, 2013 

Manatee County residents already engaged in the community and those who wish to become active will enjoy the upcoming Florida Neighborhoods Conference in our own backyard.

The 17th annual event comes to Manatee for the first time with a broad spectrum of workshops sure to enlighten citizens on topics that will enhance their activism in civic affairs.

The July 11-13 conference features more than 40 workshops, a host of local tours, and opportunities to network with Floridians from around the state. Workshop titles reflect the variety of interests and objectives of neighborhood activism.

Community engagement is a vital part of our democracy with people uniting on a grassroots level to pursue goal-setting, decision-making and problem-solving. The value of collaborative public participation to improvement a community's quality of life cannot be overestimated.

Communities can range from condominium and homeowner associations to mobile home parks and apartment complexes. Beyond geographic proximity, a community can be people united in common interests or similar situations.

Through engagement, people can discover the tremendous array of individual talents and beneficial skills that others possess -- and tap those abilities for the betterment of the community. Those bonds increase communications, build trust and build stronger neighborhoods.

Sometimes, though, governing boards become dysfunctional, fall prey to overzealous members or otherwise encounter barriers to success.

For those circumstances, the conference can help with a workshop titled "Help! My Meetings are Out of Control!"

This will address the techniques for taking back meetings from the naysayers, interrupters and usurpers.

The best place to start for residents new to engagement is "Neighborhood Organizing 101 -- Getting Back to Basics."

This workshop will spotlight the best practices for launching a neighborhood association, and inform people how to find one that appeals to their interests.

Some are designed for established organizations and the titles need little elaboration: "Oh No, Foreclosures! How Do We Maintain Condo and Homeowner's Associations?" and "What's New in HOA and Condo Law." The latter will discuss legislative changes and judicial precedents as well as provide legal advice.

Two others speak to communities in search of assistance: "Making a Difference in Your Neighborhood with Limited Resources" focuses on building relationships to overcome a lack of resources; "Neighborhoods Partnering with Nonprofits" is about establishing effective alliances to boost a community.

In total, the Florida Neighborhoods Conference will stage 40 workshops and tours. The nonprofit organization, founded by neighborhood outreach staff from various communities in 1996, is dedicated to providing information and networking opportunities to Floridians.

Manatee County's Neighborhood Services Department is hosting the event at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

Information: Debbie DeLeon: 941-749-3029, ext. 3482.

Early registration, capped at 350, remains open until June 24 at a cost of $50 and can be completed at www.floridaneighborhoodsconference.org.

Fee is $85 beginning June 25. Tours cost $5. Space is limited in workshops and tours.

As is quite obvious, we're very bullish on community engagement and we'll encourage participation at every opportunity.

This conference is a coup for Manatee County, providing locals and visitors alike with the opportunity to learn essential tips and tools for effective civic activism.

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