Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Dr. Theresa Coble, Ph.D.


Dr. Theresa Coble, Ph.D.

Dr. Phyllis Balcerzak, Ph.D.

Dr. Carl Hoagland, Ed.D.

Dr. Keith Miller, Ph.D.


This qualitative exploratory study of effective community engagement process examines community leader’s perceptions of their experiences and the role fostering and building trust plays in producing sustainable change in a Midwestern regional context. The purpose of this study was to explore how trust interacts with asset-based thinking and social learning experiences, including trauma-informed awareness, meaning-making, and empathy, to support community engagement efforts. The research team interviewed 26 individuals who were selected via purposive sampling. Study participants were active in their communities and practitioners in their respective professions. The study identified five overarching themes that emerged from participant interviews, including themes related to community leadership and engagement; community leaders fostering trust by extending trust; the influences of trauma, meaning-making, and empathy; and the use of social learning experiences to build trust and enhance shared vision; and innovative strategies to foster community engagement. Community leaders demonstrated numerous forms of caregiving behavior and cultivated an empathetic approach to humanity. Similar to Barnes & Schmitz (2016), we conclude that effective community engagement is a profoundly transformational process that incorporates a bottom-up approach instead of a top-down approach. Our community engagement model shows a continual cycle of learning through trauma-informed practice, meaning-making, and the cultivation of empathy. When community leaders apply this learning to asset-based approaches, social behavioral change can be facilitated within community contexts. Our research suggests that each community member can be empowered with a voice, a voice that builds trust, a voice that is strengthened through community engagement.