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 Orlando, Florida 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.

2016 Annual Report


  • Mailing Address: PO BOX 560531, Orlando, FL 32856
  • Physical Address: 1123 W. Conroy St, Orlando, FL 32805
  • Phone: 866-757-1334
  • Email: info@polisinstitute.org


Phil Hissom

Phil founded the Polis Institute in 2009 to improve quality of life with Orlando’s 100 distressed neighborhoods. He has extensive experience creating solutions to complex social problems and holds a Master of Divinity degree. Phil hails from a family that has been laboring with the poor for four generations since his great-grandfather founded a Christian mission in Charleston, West Virginia in 1934. Phil’s immediate family includes his wife Jennie, three teenage children, and their lovable mutt Liberty.

Shawn Welcome
Family Engagement Coordinator

Shawn Welcome has been engaged in community improvement since creating a poetry and life skills program for youth offenders at the 33rd Street Jail in 2006. Shawn is the founder and host of Diverse Word, the longest running, weekly open mic gathering in Orlando. In the past, Shawn has devoted himself to area nonprofits including The Hope Community Center, the Orlando Boys & Girls Club, Frontline Outreach Community Center, and Professional Opportunities Program for Students (POPS), a youth empowerment and internships program. Shawn Welcome is the proud father of four children and married to his beautiful wife, Jannah.

Pam Amundsen
Communications Director

Ingrained with a desire for lasting systemic change, Pam Amundsen’s commitment to justice-based solutions has led her to work on farms, partner with small, local businesses, and land in the nonprofit world. With a Bachelors in Marketing, her aim is to promote initiatives worth following and come alongside people working for change. Pam and her husband, Roger, live in a small apartment where they try to be good neighbors.

Dennis Murrill
Community Organizer

Dennis is the proud father of four adult children and three grandchildren. A Marine Corps veteran, Dennis spent his early career as a grassroots activist in inner city Baltimore working with small community based organizations such as Our Voices Heard, larger institutions such as Poverty Solutions, and local politicians. Dennis currently resides in Orlando where he leads the community organizing efforts for Polis Institute while actively pursuing a Master’s degree in Organizational Management from Springfield College.

Ronald Jones
Community Engagement Specialist

Ron is a life-long resident of Orlando and a passionate advocate for the youth of the city. Ron has also worked extensively with Orlando’s homeless population and helped found the Steps program at the Coalition for the Homeless in 1999. Ron has 2 adult children and 4 grandchildren.


Dr. Bahiyyah Maroon
Senior Research Fellow

Dr. Bahiyyah Maroon guides individuals and organizations in the discovery and cultivation of their optimal. Holding a PhD in anthropology, Bahiyyah has spent more than a decade consulting and researching the integral link between meaningful individual growth and significant change outcomes for communities and organizations. As a strategic facilitator, speaker, and thought leader, Bahiyyah brings her expertise into organizational, educational, and community settings.



Not pictured:
Brandy Hannah | Community Development Coordinator
Andres Florez | GIS + Data Specialist
Timothy Ayers | Director of Community Development




Dan Sherfield
Board Chair
Summit Church,
Connect Director




Jessica Jetton
Donor Engagement Director





Scott Lee
Elevation Financial Group
Vice President of Business
+ Philanthropic Development






Not Pictured:
Julie Zaiback | Adventist Health System, Director of Public Policy
Ryan Norman | Vistana Signature Experiences, Finance Director
Amanda Ware | Rollins College, Assistant Director, Research and Prospect Development



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.