Introducing MVP Families

For the past 21 years, Florida Citrus Sports (FCS), has been investing in youth enrichment in Orlando through a program called “MVP Summer Camp.” This year the camp is being extended to a year-round program called “MVP Families.”

Through the combined efforts of FCS in partnership with Lift Orlando, Florida Blue, and the Polis Institute, the program is seeking to engage families in the 32805 neighborhood. Program objectives include assisting students with college acceptance and scholarships, developing community leaders, strengthening the bonds between parents and children, connecting families with other families, and setting and achieving family goals.

Once a the month, leading up to the MVP summer camp next summer, a dinner will be prepared for and by MVP Families program participants. Child care will be provided, allowing space and opportunity for meaningful discussion among the adults in a holistic approach to community transformation. The first of these meetings will be on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at the Frontline Outreach Youth and Family Community Center (3000 C.R Smith St. Orlando, FL 32805) from 6:30-8:30pm. 


Using Art to Visualize Community Assets

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) involves leveraging what a community has to offer so that it can move itself towards a desired future. A first step in the process is typically some kind of inventory of what is there – talents of individuals, programs and facilities, informal groups, property – the whole nine yards. This information is captured, analyzed, and visualized so that connections can be made and initiatives can be created that benefit the community. The product of this inventory is often called an asset map.

Art is a great way to visualize these assets and can serve as a nice complement to the more common options of a tabular list or a map. The most useful asset maps include all three – artwork, a database, and on dynamic online map. All three can depict the same information but are just displayed in different formats, each with its own appeal. The tabular data gives you just the facts, the map shows you where assets are, and artwork provides emotional and narrative content.

This video describes an art project that POLIS led as part of the LIFT Orlando project:


The project described in the video above was fairly complex. POLIS was contracted by LIFT Orlando to do the asset mapping project and hired ArtWorks to do the creative process with the children. There was a lot of planning to conduct the sessions in four different locations that included a school and three community centers. There were expenses to pay and significant expertise from the ArtWorks staff to guide the students through the process. But the end result was amazing. The art from the kids was inspirational and aligned very closely with what over 1,500 adults had said in door-to-door surveys.

The survey information was entered into a database which was also loaded into a GIS (Geographic Information System). But the information was also visualized in a more artistic way, or at least a graphic way. This involved loading the responses into an online word cloud generator called WordItOut (there are several) that produced a graphic of all of the recorded words of responses to the survey questions. The more frequent the word, the larger the word in the graphic.

Three of the questions that POLIS asks during its asset surveys are depicted below followed by example word clouds from the LIFT project.

What is your favorite thing about the neighborhood?



What would you do to make the community a better place?



What is something that other people say you are good at?



These representations of what people say or imagine invoke much more of an emotive response than merely hearing a statistic or seeing a dot on a map. Data and maps are very helpful but less structured graphic and artistic representations of community assets can be especially helpful for unlocking ideas and vision – which are essential to making positive change. These images are presented at community meetings, along with stats and maps, to help build initiatives that are most likely to engage community interest and provide a tangibel community benefit.



Monthly Learning/Networking Opportunity

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.

Collaboration in Human Centered Design – The Lake Lorna Doone Park Initiative

Lake Lorna Doone Park, which is owned and managed by the City of Orlando, is being redesigned. Improving this historic park, which sits in the shadow of the Orlando Citrus Bowl, is a top priority for area residents as reported in surveys completed by Polis Institute in early 2014. As the year progressed, an action plan was created, initial funding was secured, and the design process got underway. In January of 2015, the first formal design plans will be unveiled for additional comment.

The redesign process was initiated and funded by LIFT Orlando. Florida Citrus Sports has pledged an additional one million dollars towards the project and is providing leadership as it progresses. It is being facilitated by Polis Institute. Jacobs Global Buildings is drafting the physical and architectural plans. Key contributors include residents who live near the park, regular users of the park, and the City of Orlando.

The truly collaborative effort makes this redesign unique. The partners are working together at the same table. This is rare. Collaboration is one of those words that everyone likes to say but no one likes to actually do. It takes more time. You hear more complaints. You entertain more ideas. You include more voices.

More voices means more opinions. Different opinions. Each time a new opinion is voiced it represents another person that is not going to get exactly what they want. But it’s these very differences of opinion, when voiced in the context of a healthy design process, that become integral strands of a strong and sustainable solution.

Dan Kirby and Kevin Kuehn move the design process forward with City of Orlando, residents of West Lakes, Polis Institute, and LIFT Orlando

Dan Kirby (back left) and Kevin Kuehn (fourth from the right) from Jacobs Global Buildings move the design process forward with City of Orlando, residents of West Lakes, Polis Institute, and LIFT Orlando

Human Centered Design (HCD) is just such a healthy design process. HCD sets a stage where these myriad voices converge at the harmonious intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. What do people really want? What is technically and organizationally feasible? What is financially viable? (Human Centered Design Toolkit)

The bulk of the work thus far has been centered on answering the desirability question. In many ways, that’s the fun part. The work is now transitioning into the feasibility phase and will conclude with viability. Answering these questions is not strictly linear but it does help to allow each question to take center stage for a season. Maintaining focus and making steady progress keeps collaborators more engaged.

Long-term resident Tangia Smikle hopes that her teenage daughter will get to really enjoy the park like she did in her youth and that the park will be fully accessible to people with disabilities. Thomas Frazier, who walks the perimeter of the park several times a week, hopes that a paved walking path will one day undergird his trek. The five walking clubs in the immediate area share his interest.

Eugene Leach, a lifelong advocate for youth recreation, longs to see a first-class playground and well-maintained sports amenities like basketball courts. Margaret Hill envisions a beautiful fountain on this historic lake. Many others share her vision. Doug Head wants people to be able to learn about the ecology of the lake and the rich cultural history of the neighborhood as they enjoy the park.

Volunteers from Polis Institute and Collins Recreation talk with people in the park during a Family Fun Day

Volunteers from Polis Institute and Collins Recreation talk with people in the park during a Family Fun Day

Amidst these hopes for the future, there are also concerns. Many current regular users of the park, who range from organized athletic teams to pickup basketball groups to the ever-present dominoes crew, fear that their interests won’t be preserved in an updated park. The City wants to make sure that anything that is put in place is sustainable, safe, and helps them meet demands from across the region for park amenities. Many people who do not currently use the park but would like to, express concerns about safety and not feeling welcome.

The greatest uses of the park currently are large, informal social gatherings that happen each week. The park is a regional gathering place for the African American community. Most of these regional visitors have a very personal, local, connection to the park. Many share stories of running through the park during football practice when they were at Jones High School or recall playing in little league games on the currently absent baseball fields. Still others go way back and talk about swimming in the lake that is now only suitable for fishing.

The common denominator of these stories is connection. “This is where I can always catch up with my family and friends,” said Rod Faulk. “That’s important.” He wants to see a nice fountain in the lake too. He’d love it if the there was another basketball court. But most of all he wants that sense of connection to the place itself, and the people who have woven their story with it, to remain regardless of any changes.

Allowing all of these voices to inform the design for the park will result in the best park possible for this place at this time in its history. That is the benefit of collaboration. We are far better together than we are alone.

Additional info:

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Desirability Sessions Report (9/15/14 – provides detail for each session held over the summer)

Lake Lorna Doone Park – Action Plan (10/22/14 – summarizes the initial design work and drafts a plan)

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