Thursday, June 13, 2024

Attendees at the public celebration of “Forgotten Souls of Tory Row: Remembering the Enslaved People of Brattle Street” at History Cambridge headquarters in July 2022. (Photo: Cambridge Community Television)

I was fortunate to take part in a training program run last month by the City of Cambridge called “Making Connections: A Community Engagement Training Program for Cambridge.” With participants from city agencies and local nonprofits, this training encompassed nearly 30 hours of group work and discussion to help facilitate better engagement and relationship-building with the diverse Cambridge community.

The Cambridge Family Policy Council recommended in 2015 that the city add funding to its Community Engagement Team budget to create a training program supporting anyone in the city who engages with the community. They convened a working group to develop the training, representing those who work for city departments, schools and nonprofits. The team now offers this training to 16 people twice a year, reevaluating the program continuously and making needed improvements.

The program is presented in seven sessions, each lasting four hours, over the course of three weeks for a total of 28 hours. Each session deals with a different topic: Building relationships; cultural and racial awareness; communication; boundaries; finding and using resources; and community-based leadership. Through large- and small-group discussions, role-playing exercises and personal reflection, our group explored the ways in which our personal and group identities can influence our interactions with community members in positive and negative ways. We shared examples from our own work and discussed ideas for breaking down barriers to communication and connection with those we seek to serve.

I found this training to be challenging but extremely enlightening with regard to the work that History Cambridge does as a community convener and platform for those with knowledge about Cambridge history to share experiences. History Cambridge was founded on white privilege, by and for a specific subset of Cambridge residents to share what they believed were the “important” people, places and events in the city’s past; it’s committed to moving past its origins and collecting and sharing the stories of all of Cambridge. As we work to create and strengthen relationships with a wide variety of individuals and organizations throughout the city, we understand that we must first build trust to demonstrate our willingness to move beyond our previous privileging of the history of specific communities; participation in the Making Connections training was an important step.

Overseeing the most recent session of Making Connections were Nancy Tauber, executive director of the Cambridge Family Policy Council, and Marlees West Owayda, community engagement manager for the city.

I asked Tauber and Owayda what they feel is the greatest benefit of the workshop: “The foundation of this work is based on relationships. We believe it is important that everyone who engages with the community have the Making Connection skills and a common language to better meet the needs of our community. People don’t necessarily have these skills when they start their jobs, and we are committed to ensure they do. Some amazing collaborations have resulted between folks who have taken the training. Participants share what they have learned with others. They encourage those they work with to take the training and utilize the technical assistance CET provides. Many of the Making Connections participants have become facilitators.”

Tauber and Owayda emphasize that anyone who provides services to the community and wants to further develop their skills is welcome to take the training, including representatives from nonprofit organizations such as History Cambridge. I am confident that the skills I learned through the program will benefit our work in the Cambridge community, and I encourage others who work in and with the city and its residents to engage with this valuable program.

For information about Making Connections, reach out to the City’s Community Information Team.

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About History Cambridge

History Cambridge started in 1905 as the Cambridge Historical Society. Today we have a new name and a new mission. We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We recognize that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We listen to our community and we live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone. Throughout 2023, we are focusing on the history of Cambridgeport. Make history with us at historycambridge.org.

History Cambridge is a nonprofit organization. Our activities rely on your financial support. If you value articles like this one, give today.


Beth Folsom is programs manager for History Cambridge.