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  • Writer's pictureACET, Inc.

ACET Staff Highlight: Carlos Gallego

Carlos Gallego, ACET’s Technical Assistant Coordinator & Data Collector, has more than two decades of experience in community engagement and relationship building. He is passionate about his work in community engagement and offers three pieces of advice for organizations looking to engage community members.

His first piece of advice: Know your community. This includes diving in and understanding the people who live there. Carlos says he reviews specific population trends or demographic shifts such as in-migration and out-migration. But he also wants to know what has caused those trends and shifts, what issues the community is currently facing, who are the (formal and informal) leaders, and what’s important to community members. “Coming in as someone from outside the community and not having experience, you don’t have credibility, so your first step is to learn,” he says.

The next step is to connect with community leaders. This allows someone from outside the community to learn even more about the community, and also allows them to establish those vital, credible relationships. Carlos recommends reaching out to community organizations, faith-based communities, local businesses, neighborhood associations, and other prominent groups. “Sometimes it’s just finding out who has been working in the community and starting there,” he says. “Establishing a relationship with a person the community respects can help you make more connections and have a greater impact.”

As a final tip, Carlos stresses that understanding community needs and differences, especially between rural and urban communities, is critical. He recommends exploring past and recent issues of newspapers, county board meeting minutes, and other sources. “Try to uncover any hot topics in the community—for instance, maybe the high school football team is having a historic season, or maybe a factory is closing, or a community center is being built,” he advises. “Anything like that has a big impact on the heart of a rural community.”

In the end, Carlos says, effective community engagement involves earning trust and fostering meaningful relationships. By investing time to understand the community, you show a commitment to valuing and earning their trust.”

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