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K-State Today

August 3, 2023

Payne and community partner receive grant to study how community writing can empower neighborhoods

Submitted by Mirna Bonilla

Ania Payne, Kansas State University assistant professor of English, has been awarded $5,000 through the Engaged Scholarship Research/Creative Activities Grants program on behalf of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium to complete a one-year collaborative project, "Community Asset Mapping Through Front Porch Conversations and Writing."
The project is a collaboration with community partner Manhattan Area Habitat for Humanity. 

"This project and award are the result of a community writing partnership that Professor Payne established with our affiliate in 2017, which has increased our impact through technical and creative writing," said Josh Brewer, Manhattan Area Habitat for Humanity executive director. "With this award, we will continue to develop the role of storytelling in neighborhood revitalization."

Habitat for Humanity hosts a series of community conversations titled "Front Porch Conversations," which brings neighbors together to discuss their neighborhood assets. Conversations take place on the porch of a neighborhood host and are led by a trained facilitator who supports the conversation using the Habitat for Humanity Quality of Life Framework. Findings from the discussion drive Habitat's asset-based neighborhood revitalization strategy. 

With the grant, Payne will support Habitat's asset-based neighborhood revitalization by incorporating community writing into these discussions.  
"Community writing can be a powerful tool for public awareness and expression, for facilitating dialogues across differences, and for tapping into reflective insights that don't emerge from only engaging in conversations," Payne said.  
Participants will respond to writing prompts that tap into their local, place-based knowledge. For example, short memories about neighbors who used to live in the neighborhood or memories about neighbors who planted a certain tree or left an impact in their neighborhood. After having some time for individual reflection, participants will be invited to share their writing with the group to continue the conversations.   
According to Payne, this project will offer a new categorization of neighborhood assets that is rooted in residents' sense of place and belonging. Through this grant, work in this area will be enhanced to empower residents to design asset-based community development interventions in their neighborhoods and will contribute to scholarly conversations about how community writing can be a source of empowerment that drives local change-making.  

It will also result in the ability to create the first-ever community asset map in Manhattan.   

"Ania's collaborative project with the Manhattan Area Habitat for Humanity will advance K-State's goal to become a next-generation land-grant university," said Karin Westman, professor and department head of English. "The project also demonstrates the vital role of the humanities in community-engaged research that can foster a better quality of life for Kansans. Our thanks to the Engagement Scholarship Consortium for funding this partnership." 

Projects such as these exemplify how conducting engaged community research that is mutually beneficial for both university scholars and communities is the very foundation of engaged scholarship and K-State's land-grant mission.