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A Conversation with Lamond Daniels

By Sarah Strunk on August 13th, 2020

 

Lamond Daniels, LCSW, MPA, is Chief of Community Services for the City of Norwalk, CT. In this role, he oversees city departments that directly affect the social well-being and health of Norwalk residents, including Early Childhood, Health, Human Relations & Fair Rent, Library, and Youth Services. With degrees in social work and public administration, previous roles in philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, neighborhood initiatives, and social work, and a deep spirit of gratitude and generosity, Lamond is well-equipped to help Norwalk navigate these challenging times. Read on for Lamond’s insights on what it takes to ensure that communities are able to thrive.

 

SS: We last connected in October 2019, when you’d just started your new job. Now you’re really on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are things going?

LD: I’ve been a social worker in very marginalized communities. COVID-19 has shown me that these are serious times—unlike any I’ve seen in the past. So many families are struggling to meet even their basic needs, like food, clothing, and housing. And the data in Norwalk show communities of color are far more impacted by COVID-19. When we help Black kids and families, we help all kids and families. When Black lives matter, all lives matter. It’s not an “us vs. them” situation. We’ve got work to do, and COVID-19 has shown us our pain points. But we as city government can’t do it alone. We need to work with our community partners.

As you’ve shared, these are extremely challenging times for communities, and for local governments in particular. But there is also potential for positive change. Would you share a bright spot from your work in Norwalk?

I do believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If we can come together strategically as a community, city, or even as a country, there are opportunities to be transformational. My role is new, and my department is new. My first task was to introduce myself to the nonprofit community through a listening tour. So when COVID-19 hit Norwalk, I had already built those important relationships. I invited community partners to join me for a conference call, and over 100 people participated!

Since that initial call, we’ve continued to connect regularly to talk about what’s happening and how we’ll respond. And now we’re starting to explore what else we can do together. We’re not just addressing urgent needs—we’re also thinking about the underlying systems and structures that got us here. We’re working collectively and making decisions based on data. COVID-19 has strengthened our work and made it more collaborative.

How are you working to meet urgent needs while also addressing longer-term systems changes?

I was a nonprofit executive years ago, and I know how hard it can be just to focus on the here and now. Coordination emerged as a common need during my listening tour with community partners. As a result, my department serves as a thought partner, convener, and coordinator.

We’re now addressing a number of systems issues such as food access. Norwalk has a strong middle class, but we still have significant pockets of deep poverty. Many children who are eligible for SNAP benefits weren’t using the services, and now we know why: we have a large community of people who don’t have documentation. So the city has helped educate the nonprofit community about eligibility, and together we’ve created systems changes that help break down barriers to access.

This isn’t the first time you’ve held a local leadership role. In the past, you were Director of Neighborhood Initiatives for the City of Bridgeport, CT. What have you learned from these experiences about the critical community supports needed to ensure that everyone is able to live their best possible life?

When and where government should play a role looks different from city to city. I’m a social worker at heart. That’s my core. But in my current role, most of the budget comes from taxpayers, and they have a right to determine how that money is spent. I have to rally support to bring people along.

I’ve learned that you can’t do it alone. You really need to build partnerships. From Social Work 101, I learned that you need to meet clients where they are. In this case, it’s about meeting elected officials where they are. If I can spend time understanding their experience, they’ll spend time understanding mine. While the city was thriving economically, we wanted to be sure that residents, too, are thriving—economically, socially, physically, and mentally. My role is to help lift the voices of those who are most marginalized in our city.

We first met a few years ago when you were with the Aetna Foundation. What did you learn about healthy communities from your work in national philanthropy and corporate social responsibility? How has that influenced your current perspective? 

Every experience has given me an opportunity to build my toolbox to further help communities. Working in national philanthropy, I visited dozens of communities across the country. I observed what good can happen when the community identifies what’s important to them. I am very sensitive to community voices and how engaged they are in our city’s discussions and decisions. I never underestimate the power of people. Administrators and executive leaders like me need to leave our offices and walk through the communities we serve. That’s so important, and I never want to lose that part. It gives me energy and validates when we’re doing the right thing.

I was excited to hear about the birth of your son, Connor, at the end of June. What’s the legacy you’d like to leave him, and his big sister Corinne, from your work in public service?

I love what I do! It’s in my bones. When you see me, you see my third grade teacher, Miss Kaye. You see my high school drama teacher, Miss Perry. And you see my spiritual leader, Pastor Cynthia Gee West. So many people have helped me. The legacy I would love to leave my kids is the importance of service. Even if you don’t think you have anything to offer, sometimes a smile can go a long way–especially in these times.

National Vinyl Records Day was this week. On a more lighthearted note, what was the first record (or cassette tape or CD) you bought?

Janet Jackson’s Say You Do album. I was in middle school, and I was obsessed with her.

 

Thanks, Lamond, for your inspiration and commitment to health and equity in Norwalk and beyond!

Author
Sarah Strunk
Sarah Strunk

Strategic Advisor

Healthy communities networker, integrator and distance runner on the go.