News & Resources

Harnessing the Power of Teens Through the Neighborhood Voices Model

May 18, 2017 | |
East Bayside neighborhood youth, Portland, Maine, with Groundwork USA staff
East Bayside neighborhood youth, Portland, Maine, with Groundwork USA staff

This past April, Kate O’Brien, Groundwork USA’s Director of Capacity Building and Anne Harrison, Project Manager, presented a webinar on Neighborhood Voices, our new community engagement model for planning and implementing an inclusive, stakeholder-driven community engagement strategy. This approach is designed to harness the power of teens to rebuild their neighborhoods by utilizing the tools and talents teens often have.

What is the Neighborhood Voices model?

The Neighborhood Voices model was designed to help EPA Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grantees design and lead a community engagement process that would reach beyond the community’s “familiar faces” to include lower-income residents, people of color, and immigrants in the planning process. These residents are disproportionately impacted by an area’s brownfield sites and stand to gain the most from the wave of prosperity that would follow from brownfield cleanup and reuse investments, in terms of access to jobs, wealth building, and overall improvement in health.

How was the model developed?

The Neighborhood Voices model was developed as part of Groundwork USA’s free Equitable Development/Brownfields Planning Technical Assistance program, which promotes collaboration between stakeholders, cultivates community leaders, and leverages existing community resources. Groundwork USA provided support to Cultivating Community, a Portland, Maine local community gardening organization working with teens, and a government planning advisory board looking to involve teens in gathering feedback from residents of Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. East Bayside is home to many recent immigrants who are experiencing cost of living increases as craft breweries, restaurants, and high-priced residences are drawn to this rapidly changing former industrial area.

How does Neighborhood Voices work?

Neighborhood Voices is a four-step process that moves from preparation to community presentation. Participating teens come away from the Neighborhood Voices process with newfound confidence and tangible job readiness skills, local residents benefit from the teens’ energy and knowledge of their community, and planning officials get an expanded sense of what community members actually want and need.

Watch the hour-long recorded Neighborhood Voices webinar below or at

Monica Gregoire, Groundwork USA Program Assistant, provides staff support for Groundwork USA’s capacity building and technical assistance programs focused on brownfields, equitable development, and environmental justice.