Polis Institute’s research and evaluation team gives you powerful data insights to build stronger more effective social solutions. With over 70 years of collective experience, our team of experts are passionate about giving foundations, non-profits, and government agencies primary data driven insights that create meaningful results.
MEET THE TEAM
President and Chief Data Officer, Dr. Bahiyyah Maroon, leads Polis Institute’s research and evaluation team and collaborates with the institute’s data science and data visualization partners. She holds an MA and PhD in Anthropology from UC. Santa Cruz. In her career, Dr. Maroon has provided research and strategy insights to the US Dept. of Justice, US Dept of Education, Harvard University, US Dept. of Labor, and Intel Corp. among others. As an interdisciplinary applied researcher, she believes in the power of balanced quantitative and qualitative approaches to create thoughtful data insights.
Senior Research & Evaluation Consultant, Dr. Tanya Hills, obtained her Doctorate in Health Education and holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy & Law. She is experienced in multi-site and multi-organization evaluation and research across sectors including housing, healthcare, workforce development, and human rights. Dr. Hills is known for her deft abilities in enhancing multi-party stakeholder participation to elevate mission-based goals.
GIS & Data Analyst, Andres Florez is a leader in place based research. Andres deploys the power of geographic information systems and data analysis to show stakeholders the true assets and socioeconomic arc of communities. He holds a Master of Science in Human Geography. Andres’ work is dedicated to creating opportunities through data insights that contribute to all people having access.
Evaluation Consultant, Julie Thomas collaborates with diverse stakeholders and organizations to execute formal third party evaluations. Her expertise and passion is in collective impact initiative evaluations. She holds a Master’s in Nonprofit Management from the University of Central Florida and is a member of the American Evaluation Association. Julie has fifteen years of experience creating improved outcomes in myriad sectors including the third sector, education, and healthcare.
Mark your calendars now for Thursday, March 14th at 6pm when we’ll be celebrating our annual fundraiser, PI Day! We’ll be sharing insights from the year as well as our 2018 annual report. Join us for a time of pie, refreshments, and networking with fellow change-makers in the Metro Orlando community!
Through our “West Lakes MVP Families” program, children in the neighborhood were afforded the opportunity to hang out at “Fun Spot” with Penn State and University of Kentucky college football players! The “Day for Kids” event was just days before the teams faced off at the Citrus Bowl! It was a memorable experience for both the players and families living near Camping World Stadium! Check out this link for the full scoop!
Labeling has a great influence on perceptions, choices, behaviors, and even beliefs. Some communities are viewed only as places of significant poverty and high rates of violence. These negative preconceptions can have a psychological impact on both the residents and those outside the community. This can lead one to believe in a world that is simply broken or one in which heroes are needed to fix communities.
We should identify communities with nuance and empathy rather than use pejorative labels like crime-infested, impoverished, and blighted. Labels can be self-fulfilling prophecies. If someone is told that they are aggressive, they are more likely to behave in such a manner. Alternatively, if someone is told that they are kind, this is likely to influence their behavior in a positive way. A community should not be labelled as anything less than they are. Society as a whole is stronger when we acknowledge the abilities and potential of our communities and is weakened when we become singularly focused on deficiencies. This is not to minimize the existing challenges but to posit those challenges in ways that point to our shared responsibility to address them. A concentration of low incomes in a particular community are not simply a result of low initiative or skill. There are social conditions that significantly influence these outcomes as well – educational options, infrastructure (sidewalks, lighting, parks), and access to healthcare to name a few. So how do we best describe a community with a higher than average number of low income families? The adjective ‘underappreciated’ says it best. POLIS sees people, all people, as assets with inherent dignity. Under-appreciating assets is a failed opportunity. Non-profits regularly develop programs without asking those experiencing the issue first-hand what they might do to address the issue and their approaches and outcomes are made less effective because of this oversight.Residents are the main assets in a community because they have the greatest vantage point for their community’s needs. Communities who may have not benefited from equitable financial investment tend to be rich in other forms of capital. For instance, a community known for having higher amounts of low income housing tend to have residents with stronger relationships among neighbors. Negative labeling would dismiss this very important thread in the fabric of a community. By acknowledging the dignity of each individual in a community, regardless of the labels, the true beauty and assets of what everyone brings to the table becomes evident which positively influences the way we address any challenges.
Other descriptors that point to shared responsibility are ‘underserved’ and ‘underresourced’. POLIS uses a Neighborhood Stress Index and points to neighborhoods in ‘distress.’ Our hope is that this hints at both internal and external factors that make living there more stressful than in other communities.
However we choose to describe neighborhoods, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that no label will fully describe it and that there are unintended consequences to our labels. The best descriptors point to shared responsibility and are always aided by additional language that makes it clear that all communities have both needs and assets and that solutions to any challenges best stem from focusing more on the assets.
Polis Institute designs solutions to social problems by valuing the perspectives of everyone with a stake in addressing the problem. We serve our three stakeholder groups (Residents, Investors, and Service Providers) in a parallel process —as facilitator— in order to achieve goals that bring the greatest benefit to those directly impacted by the issue, often the local residents.
The Town of Eatonville was recognized as the ‘most improved’ area in Central Florida between 2016 and 2017 by POLIS in our annual report which was released on March 14, 2018. POLIS has been publishing such data since 2008 as part of an ongoing initiative to monitor and improve conditions at the neighborhood level across the region.
To that end, POLIS created a “Neighborhood Stress Index” that combines Safety, Housing, Education, and Income variables into a single number that allows for comparisons between neighborhoods and identification of hot spots where investments are needed. Many of these hot spots are well known clusters of neighborhoods like the Town of Eatonville in which efforts are underway to not only improve conditions but to also improve perceptions since these areas tend to have a great deal of underappreciated talent, assets, and potential.
Between 2016 and 2017, Eatonville rose 31 ranks on the list to 142 (out of 609 neighborhoods) and out of the ‘distressed’ category altogether. Leaders at Town Hall deserve much credit for this dramatic improvement as they have updated their governance policies, enhanced civic engagement and communication, and built strategic partnerships. Over the past two years, the Town partnered with POLIS and Winter Park Health Foundation to offer Leadership Eatonville to equip residents to become more civically engaged by guiding initiatives to strengthen this historic town. There are currently 31 graduates of the program.
is an annual, international day of giving that takes place this year on November 28, 2017.
We believe in the value of Collective Impact. Our experience alone is worth very little. It is only when we partner with others, learn from them, and share this experience that it becomes valuable. One of the ways we are doing this is through our partnerships with key community leaders and investors in 32805.
The MVP Families program was developed alongside families in 32805 in an effort to engage the parents of students at Title 1 schools and help close the disproportionate achievement gap that exists in education. Families like Richandra and her son James (pictured left), who have been participating in the program since Fall 2016.
The cost for one MVP Family to participate in all aspects of the program – including tutoring, family coaching, monthly and bi-monthly meetings, childcare support, and quarterly Family Fun events – for one year is $2,500. Your support helps families achieve their own goals and the overall goals of the MVP Families program: increased family stability, academic success, high quality developmental relationships and improved health and wellness.
Share our Story
Tell people why you believe in our work. Share this link on your blog and social media networks or just bring us up in conversation. You know your community best, so use your own words to tell them why the work that we do matters to you.
Leadership Eatonville is a six-session workshop series for town residents that will enhance community leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Each participant will select a specific community initiative – existing or new – to work on using the principles and practical tips learned in the sessions. Workshop series is free for Eatonville residents. Non-residents may apply and will be included as space allows.
The workshop series will be held every other Thursday evening between August 10th and October 19th from 6:30pm to 9:00pm in the Denton Johnson Community Center. Graduates of the program will be eligible for additional one-on-one coaching sessions in the winter that will help them attract investment in the initiative that they are working on.
The class schedule is as follows: Thursday, August 10
Thursday, August 24
Thursday, September 7
Thursday, September 21
Thursday, October 5
Thursday, October 19
The course is facilitated by the Polis Institute on behalf of the Healthy Eatonville Team. POLIS is an Orlando-based non-profit that facilitates positive community impact through research, training, and community engagement. Founded in 2009, POLIS has helped dozens of communities leverage their interests and skills to improve quality of life in ways that are most meaningful and beneficial to them. POLIS champions the inherent dignity and value of all people.
Barbara and her daughter are one of our core MVP Families. They look forward to every meeting and haven’t missed a single one. Last week, when Barbara didn’t get the reminder text for the upcoming meeting when she expected it, she called our Family Engagement Coordinator, Shawn, to make sure everything was on track and to see if he needed any help.
To these core families, MVP Families is becoming a very important part of life. In the past two sessions, families have built goals together beginning with academic goals for the children. They have also worked on two family goals – a health and wellness goal and a financial stability goal. Barbara is focused on reading more with her daughter so that she “learns the right words and is ready for school.” She has also set goals to eat healthier and to secure more hours at her job at Vacation Lodge.
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.