Mission

We champion human dignity by designing solutions to the social problems that infringe upon it. Our current efforts are focused on revitalizing distressed neighborhoods in the Metro Orlando area in order to alleviate the burden of concentrated poverty.

Vision

A more peaceful and prosperous world in which the vast majority of people are able to enjoy the fruit of their labor in long and healthy lives.

Values

  • Dignified Interdependence
  • Thriving Neighborhoods
  • Action Research
  • Collective Impact
  • Direct Economic Benefit
  • Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

Approach

We utilize our Stakeholder Accountability Model and applied research methodologies to design solutions to social problems. In this work we engage key stakeholder groups such as:

  1. residents of distressed communities
  2. influential leaders and organizations with the capacity and care to invest in solutions that work (business leaders, foundations, government)
  3. service entities who implement solutions and programs (non-profits, churches, government, small businesses)
  4. research academies that produce models for change

Our engagement process focuses on people and helps all those affected by a given social problem leverage their hopes and assets towards attainable and impactful shared goals.

 

Our Story

In 2007, the world changed. For the first time in human history, more people lived in cities than did not. From that point, our human story, became an urban story. “Polis” is the Greek word for city and the Institute exists to ensure that the poor and disenfranchised are actively involved in shaping that story. While our work is primarily focused in Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia, we have consulted with organizations across the country to help them engage with distressed communities in dignified and effective ways.

It all began with a 40-day fast in 2005 by Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, during which she sought a vision for what should be done to bring hope and healing to Orlando, Florida. After the fast, Vonette hosted a series of dinner parties dubbed “Table Talk” and a research project, focused on the culture of service in Greater Orlando (called “Seeking the Welfare of the City”) was launched. The project received critical support and leadership from Jim Seneff and Angela Winn of CNL Financial Group, and Dr. Frank James, the then President of Reformed Theological Seminary.

As an Oxford trained historian, Dr. James was enthralled by the urbanization of our world and read widely on matters concerning the polis. He expressed his deep conviction that our response to urbanization, from either a civic or religious perspective, had to be one of compassion towards the poor and disenfranchised. He coached and encouraged the students through the project while Ms. Winn led the work. Ms. Winn had been compelled to involve herself after a life-changing experience as a juror. Following that trial, she decided to do what she could to help bring greater opportunity for those living in poverty. She brought passion and vast experience in organizational development to her leadership of the Polis project.

Dr. James then recruited seminary students to work on the project which he began to call Polis – the greek work for “city”. In 2009, the project ended and the team gleaned three main findings from the report: 1) there were 100 distressed neighborhoods in Greater Orlando, 2) Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) was the best-supported modality to alleviate that distress, and 3) there was no evidence of mature ABCD work in the area.

The report went on to recommended these four things: 1) establish an urban institute to guide ABCD with the distressed neighborhoods; 2) compel influential leaders to champion the cause; 3) create formal partnerships to engage in the work in all 100 neighborhoods, one neighborhood at a time; 4) invest in the community-led initiatives that emerge from the ABCD process.

Phil Hissom, who had been asked to the lead the project during its latter stages, incorporated the Polis Institute in May of 2009 as a direct response to these recommendations and has been leading the charge ever since.

The work of Polis Institute is under-girded by the Biblical-narrative of humanity’s journey from the garden to the city (polis). We help make places more like the promised New City described in Isaiah 65 – where people enjoy the fruit of their labor in long and healthy lives. Our origins are unapologetically Christian but we specialize in finding common ground with all people of good will so that quality of life improves in distressed places.

To read the 5-page “Seeking the Welfare of the City” report brief click here.

To read the full “Seeking the Welfare of the City” report click here.