In the fall of 2014, youth of the historic South Atlanta neighborhood began to articulate a vision and a plan to help kids from the neighborhood prepare for and succeed in college. The youth were guided in this effort by Malcolm Cox El, whose personal experiences and commitment to the cause fueled the initiative. Malcolm talks about TU in the video below. And he is more than one of the key founders of this effort. Malcolm is well on his way to becoming the first success story of TU as he enters the latter stages of his time in college at Georgia State University. His success is inspiring the 20 other youth who are currently involved in the program.
The program includes vital peer-to-peer support and helpful connections to supportive leadership and resources. While this is not a formal university, the youth believed that including the ‘university’ moniker would keep everyone focused on the goal – graduate from college with a vision for your life and your head held high. They named it for one of the streets in South Atlanta where the kids hang out – a street that happens to be named in honor of Wilbur Thirkield, an early twentieth century Methodist bishop and educator who championed the cause of education for African Americans.
Dan Crain has played an influential role in the process by encouraging Malcolm and other youth in the neighborhood to engage their talents over the past several years. He and Malcolm have co-facilitated Dignity Serves classes and have worked on numerous small projects together. The strength of their relationship and the things they are accomplishing are testaments to how much more we can do together than we can do alone.
Malcolm was afforded the opportunity to come on staff with POLIS part-time to build this initiative through a grant from Wesley Community Centers. He and Dan both joined Atlanta-based Church on the Street at the start of 2016 in order to mature this work and other efforts in Lakewood/South Atlanta.
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POLIS is excited to announce “Third Wednesdays,” a monthly series for people in Orlando involved or interested in community development. Beginning Feb 18th, 2015 you will have the opportunity to learn best practices and meet others working in this important field. Together, we will improve our efforts to alleviate poverty related distress in the City Beautiful.
Each Third Wednesday from Sept. to May will start with an Executive Learning Session followed by a more in depth Volunteer Training. Then at noon, the Metro Orlando Neighborhoods Co-op will meet – a group of professional practitioners actively engaged in community development efforts across the city.
- 7:30am – 9:00am: Learning Sessions. POLIS and LIFT Orlando will co-facilitate these sessions focused on the big ideas in community development such as Collective Impact and how the ideas are being implemented with the Communities of West Lakes which are located near Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.
- 9:30am – 11:30am: Volunteer Training. POLIS and other partners will offer a training session each month such as Dignity Serves that will help volunteers and others serve more effectively.
- 12:00pm – 1:30pm: MO COOP. The Co-op is an existing group that is working to improve quality of life in the 100 distressed neighborhoods of Orlando as identified in the initial POLIS research. The co-op began meeting in the spring of 2014 and has proven to be extremely valuable to its members – which currently include POLIS, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, South Street Ministry, Kaley Square, 306 Foundation, and LIFT Orlando. The success of the co-op led to the formation of Third Wednesdays.
The initial POLIS research, conducted between 2006 and 2009, highlighted the first social problem that we designed a solution for – concentrated poverty. Key to our model is a galvanized group of high capacity leaders willing to make a long-term investment with a particular neighborhood. Such a group is rare but in 2013, Lift Orlando formed with a focus to do just that within a 3/4 square mile area just west of downtown Orlando. Polis has provided strategic consultation, baseline demographics, and a comprehensive asset map of that very same neighborhood since before Lift was created. So, the two companies teamed up to organize the local community to build initiatives that have significant community involvement with real community leadership. Since July, roughly 80 residents have been regularly involved developing five different initiatives: engaging the youth, improving a community park, enhancing access to technology, increasing economic development, and improving housing conditions.
To gain more information to support those initiatives, Polis conducted the largest privately-funded community survey ever done in Central Florida. We went door-to-door and surveyed 1,500 adults at five community events.
In the meantime, we worked with Orange Center Elementary and with the Jackson Center to involve children, who painted over 70 inspired pieces of artwork to add to the festivities. Both the survey and the art project were done to discover the interests, hopes, and concerns of the residents of this downtown historic neighborhood – with the hope of also finding leaders willing to guide the way to a brighter future. Since those events, eight people from the community have been trained and hired to do the bulk of the work. Their efforts were complemented by over 80 volunteers and supported by two Polis staff members. Over the course of eight months, nearly 30,000 hours were spent on the project. The result: in addition to the invaluable conversations and relationships that formed, over 200 people stepped up to get involved from the neighborhood and 12 ideas were revealed as areas of greatest importance. These ideas are coming together to positively impact housing, education, income, and wellness.
Florida Citrus Sports (FCS) was established to benefit children in Central Florida and it has utilized its sporting and entertainment events, which take place at the Citrus Bowl, to do just that. Large-scale sporting venues do not typically bring prosperity to the communities in which they reside, but FCS wants to break from the norm. When they decided that they wanted to use the redevelopment of the stadium to benefit the neighborhoods around the stadium, they asked Polis to help. Earlier in 2014, we helped reorient their long-standing summer camp so that nearly all of its campers were from the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the stadium-which was no small feat. We trained and employed people from the neighborhood to knock on every door and invite every child to the camp. The result: the camp went from less than 5% neighborhood kids in 2013 to over 95%, in the course of just one year. And that was just the beginning, as FCS and Polis continue to invest in long-term relationships with the families who live near the stadium.
Northland Church has been a leader in serving the community for many years. The leadership is now guiding its flock towards a new paradigm of service through a campaign they are calling “Serving to Empower.” We began coaching their leadership team and providing key trainings to facilitate the transition into the campaign, along with the metrics to evaluate its impact. To date, we have trained 130 parishioners in the Dignity Serves course and brought on 14 new, certified Dignity Serves facilitators.
Bags, Inc. is a fast growing hospitality services company based in Orlando. They are also a very generous company in terms of charitable gifts and even direct their staff to involve themselves in charitable work. In early 2014, when they realized that their largely entry-level workforce consisted of some of the same people who may be in need of social support, they sought Polis’ help to learn how they could better serve their employees.
We conducted random surveys and focus groups in order to provide the most helpful recommendations. The yielded results that showed the company had three issues they needed to address: 1) one related to basic human needs, which required immediate intervention; 2) one related to the stability of home life, healthcare, and transportation; and 3) one related to personal development such as employment status, education, and language proficiency. Over-all, our recommendations led to corporate actions to face these challenges head on.
Best practices, baseline demographics, asset mapping, developmental evaluation, long-term impact monitoring – everything we do is based on sound research. Read our 2017 Annual Report.
2017 Neighborhood Stress Index Map:
Historical research projects:
- Thriving Cities (2013-Present): Led by University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture, POLIS is contributing the Orlando Profile and providing feedback on the developing matrix.
- Seeking the Welfare of the City (2006-2009): The initial POLIS research on the culture of service in Central Florida. This core research project identified 100 distressed neighborhoods and a model to alleviate this distress.
Are you wondering how to make your programs more sustainable? We can help. The Polis Institute helps people, organizations, and groups design collaborative community investment strategies that engage community residents, excite donors, and bring about long-lasting positive change.
To set up a discovery session contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-757-1334.
Polis’ Dignity Serves is a paradigm-shifting, deeply impactful experience that teaches how to both serve and be served with dignity in every aspect of life. Since 2008, it has helped thousands of people serve others more effectively, using interactive exercises and real-world examples to help participants apply key principles to their personal lives and to the programs that they take part in.
The principles of the course are derived from Scripture and built on the foundation that because every person is created in the image of God, every person possesses dignity. The course is made available through host organizations and is taught by Polis-trained facilitators. Scheduled classes are posted on our website and announced in our newsletter.
Hosting a Dignity Serves Training:
- Six 90-minute lessons taught week-to-week or over the course of a weekend
- Taught only by Polis-Certified Facilitators
- Cost is $50 per person which includes all materials
- Host organization provides space, snacks, and one meal
- Minimum class size is 12 people
- Maximum is limited only by available space at host organization
- To schedule a training, please contact us at email@example.com or 866-757-1334
Attending a Dignity Serves Training:
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- It has completely re-wired the way I relate and look at people in every aspect of my life: family, job and particularly ministry.
- The very first lesson, describing the idea that Christ is Dignity and Dignity Serves, was completely eye-opening. I’m not a “new” Christian and thought I had a good grasp on why we serve others. This course really did grow my perspective and show me what service is really about: interdependence. I wish this course would be taught to EVERYONE at our church and at churches throughout the nation.
- I better understand Christ’s design for serving others.
- It under-girded my understanding of service with sound theology.
- It has made me much more aware that those living in urban communities need outside groups and individuals to be committed to stay and build trust over time, not just “trying to fix what’s wrong” in these communities and then leave.
Are you tired of investing your time and resources into social projects that don’t seem to really make a difference for entire communities? We can help you discover community transformation strategies that work.
To set up a discovery session contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-757-1334 today.