Avoiding a client based mentality

How people interact can have a large impact on those in their communities.

The mission of Michigan State University Extension is helping, “people improve their lives through and educational process that applies knowledge to critical issues, needs and opportunities.”

Achieving this mission happens through all of the various efforts to deliver the vast knowledge and resources directly to individuals, organizations and communities in Michigan. In its purest form, MSU Extension seeks to be a catalyst for positive community change. It is a mechanism to engage an ever growing circle of people and institutions in positive change. While we constantly work toward this ideal, it is important to make sure that we do not seek to turn any of the people we serve in to clients.

Jane Adams said, “You cannot go into a man’s house with a stern resolution to be a friend to him. The delicate flower of friendship does not grow that way. But you can become identified with the interests of the neighborhood of which he is a part. You find yourself working shoulder to shoulder with the man who lives next door—friendship springs most naturally in comradeship and identity of interests.”

Many of the individuals and communities that MSU Extension seeks to serve include those who may be in some sort of need or at some sort of disadvantage, but approaching them as clients can create an atmosphere in which there is nothing for them to offer. Our methods and information has become the end all be all solution to their situation. This can be particularly problematic for underrepresented or historically underserved communities. 

We must never forget that, while we are here to provide resources, the communities around us are huge resources themselves. Getting to know and work alongside individuals to improve their communities or working in partnership with smaller organizations without asserting ourselves will go a long way toward building trust and moving communities forward in Michigan.

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