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Helping Residents Pursue Their Own Goals

One of the most important aspects of a life well-lived is the discovery and pursuit of one’s own goals and aspirations. For those of us who practice Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), this is a fundamental part of the work – helping residents of a small geographic area leverage their skills and networks to realize their dreams. Connecting the dreams of particular residents to one another and those shared dreams to the overall transformation of a community is where the work gets exciting.

As straightforward as this sounds, this type of emphasis is quite rare. There are a few reasons for this, most of which are not bad. First, funding sources for programs tend to want to know what you plan to do before they give you the money. Makes sense. But then, that’s what you have to do. And if your grant was written to improve health outcomes in a community whose stated priority is jobs, then you have a conflict on your hands. The solution to this is to simply include a discovery phase for grants and to allow some ability to adjust to what is discovered.

Similarly, non-profits tend to get started to address a single, specific issue like homelessness, employability, school grades, or blindness to name a few. They then scale their work as they successfully help their clients address the issue. When the potential client-base is a city of over 200,000 people or a county of over a million people, a non-profit can continue its march towards excellence and success because it can and will focus its attention on those clients most amenable to what they have to offer. When the client-base is the residents of a particular neighborhood of 1,500 people, everything changes. And the business model of most non-profits simply will not survive that scale.

The solution to this is quite simple. Simply create a program whose sole purpose is to help the neighborhood residents establish and meet their goals while bringing in specialist partners who can help the residents succeed in particular areas. The biggest challenge to this is establishing sufficient trust to allow people to share their goals in the first place. Asking people what they are hoping to achieve in life is way more personal that asking them to show up to a cooking class. And this is one of the reasons that organizations don’t tend to do this type of work – it takes a very long time to build trusting relationships. But that is what we all need and desire in life.

We call this a Resident and Community Support Program after a program run by the East Lake Foundation in Atlanta. We are implementing a similar program on behalf of LIFT Orlando called MVP Families. Pictured above is Porcha, one of the core members of the program. The other day she took me aside to tell me how grateful she was for the program. She has now established her own goals for her family and is getting to connected to the best practices and some programs to help achieve these goals.

Here’s some of the numbers (as of Oct. 2016):

Total MVP Families:           55

Children:                                98

Avg. GPA:                               3.192

Over 2.0 GPA:                       93.3%

Established Goals:

  • Children’s Academic Success  100%
  • Family Relationships               90%
  • Health & Wellness
    • Eat Healthier 37%
    • Exercise More 41%
    • Reduce Stress 26%
  • Family Stability
    • Improve Finances 74%
    • Stabilize Housing 22%
    • Improve Transport. 15%

 

 

 

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The Most Strategic Philanthropic Investment

The most strategic philanthropic investment in the U.S. goes towards revitalizing the distressed neighborhoods that are the source of most of our social issues. These neighborhoods are also full of people with aspirations and talents. Philanthropist and businessman Tom Cousins said it this way, “America’s greatest untapped resource is the human capital trapped in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.” This is a new model for philanthropy – holistically addressing all of the issues in a single small geography rather than trying to address a single issue across a large geography.

POLIS has set out to make this happen in Central Florida since our baseline research concluded (2006-2009). We didn’t invent the model, we just discovered it. We also found no evidence of any mature effort to implement the model in Central Florida. Today, there are 10 comprehensive efforts to revitalize 33 of our 100 distressed neighborhoods. Each effort is distinctly focused on a particular geography in order to maximize the “holistic capitalization” required (the phrase we coined in our research to describe the approach). And each effort is in a different stage of the process. We help keep these initiatives on track while comparing any gains they produce to our overall “well-being” as measured by Gallup.

This is the POLIS framework for making a city stronger – strategically invest in its most distressed neighborhoods. Our role is that of a guide, facilitator, and evaluator. On behalf of a specific group of investors and for the primary benefit of the residents of these neighborhoods, we directly engage the community, equip community leaders, and evaluate the overall progress of the revitalization effort. We also run a Resident and Community Support Program in order to ensure that residents are armed with their own goals and plans when they engage with other non-profits and social service agencies that can help them achieve their goals.

Our work is important and it takes a lot of time to do this model. Time is money so we need and highly value your charitable contributions since they allow us to continue our march to propel Metro Orlando into the 90th percentile for well-being amongst America’s largest cities by 2030 (we are currently in the 59th percentile). As lofty as our primary goal is, the work boils down to affecting one family and one community at a time. Lend your support to our work today so that we can continue to make our city and our world a better place.