Training for Change

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A small but ambitious new institute for organizer training opens its doors this month,
uniting two of the city’s most formidable activist groups in an effort to fuel community
action – and to feed the groups’ own need for dedicated young staffers that will stay
around for the long haul.

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and ACORN have joined with
Mothers on the Move, a small Bronx-based parents’ group, to create the Training
Institute for Careers in Organizing (TICO). The institute’s first intensive weekend
session for about 30 would-be organizers kicks off November 16. And by January,
TICO plans to begin placing about two-dozen students selected from the weekend
training sessions into short community organizing apprenticeships.

The training is also a weeding-out process, ACORN’s Jon Kest says. He hopes at least
25 TICO graduates will land jobs as community organizers during the program’s first
year. But he expects that a large number may also find they aren’t cut out for the job.

During the apprenticeship, students will get 12 weeks of true-to-life experience, working
the streets with organizers from TICO’s three parent groups and learning first-hand the
everyday stresses and excitements of neighborhood canvassing and community

“We want to get young people [interested in community work] straight out of school,
before they’ve developed social service or community development baggage,” says
Mary Dailey, executive director of the Northwest Bronx coalition. “We want to get them
into organizing from the start.”

Nowadays many community organizations hire “organizers” to do advocacy work or to
get neighborhood residents to turn out for social service programs, rather than working
with people to define their own action agenda around housing, police, parks or
something else altogether, says TICO director Milagros Silva.

“We want to reclaim the definition of organizing,” she says. “We can plant the seed so
people don’t become outreach workers or advocates.”

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