Research Project: Becoming a K-Ready Community

Polis Institute is conducting a comprehensive research project on Early Childcare and Education in the western part of Orange County Florida. There are nearly 120 providers in this area serving an average of 68 families each. We’ll be surveying administrators, educators, and parents over the next few months to better understand their experiences and perceptions.

We are doing the research on behalf of the West Orange Healthcare District and in partnership with the Early Learning Coalition and Minga Advisors as part of the K-Ready Community Project.

The K-Ready Community Project” is engaging leaders from all sectors to make high-quality early childcare and education a priority and accessible so that all children in Orange County are ready for kindergarten.  

SURVEY LINKS: If you are an educator, administrator, or parent in one of the facilities in West Orange, HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD by participating in the research. Click on one of the links below and fill out an online survey. You will be entered in a drawing to win $150 for participating. Thank you!!!

If you don’t know if your facility is in the district, please review the map of the boundaries or locate the name of your facility in the list below.

Please call Polis Institute staff if you have any questions at 866-757-1334.

A Gateway Rising Family Childcare Inc.
Adorable Moments
After School Programs Inc at Dillard
After School Programs Inc. at OAKLAND CHARTER
Anointed Hands Child Care
Apostolic Worship Center Child Development, Inc.
Bessellieu Family Day Care Home
Blossom Montessori, LLC
Bright Horizons at Winter Garden
Bright Horizons at Windermere
Bright Stars Preschool
Burgess Family Day Care Home
Central Florida Preparatory School Inc
Central Florida YMCA Learning Center
Chambers Family Day Care Home
Children’s Lighthouse Childcare Learning Center of People of Faith, Inc.
Christ The King Lutheran Preschool
Clark Family Day Care Home
Cordoba Family Day Care Home
Country Day School
Courterier Family Day Care Home
Cranium Academy
Discovery Prep Academy Inc
Donastorg Family Day Care Home
Early Education Station
Enlighten Montessori
First Baptist Church Child Development Center
First United Methodist Learning Center Preschool
Foundation Academy
Gardner Large Family Child Care Home
Gilbert Family Day Care Home
Glad Tidings Church Preschool
Go Love Academy
Good Homes Preschool 2
Good Homes Preschool of Orlando
Growing Minds Montessori ITP LLC
Growing Minds Montessori School
Happy Little House
HFCS Extended Day Program
Hines Family Day Care Home
Holy Family Catholic School
Innovation Montessori Ocoee
Isaacs Family Day Care Home
Jack & Lee Rosen Jewish Community Center, Inc
KCE Champions at Westbrooke Elementary
Kellom Family Day Care Home
Kiddie Lane Home Daycare Inc.
Kiddie U
Kids Grow Preschool
KinderCare Education at Work LLC
King Family Day Care Home
King Family Day Care Home
Kingsway Christian Academy
Kirkland Family Day Care Home
La Petite Academy Inc.
La Petite Academy Inc.
Ladybird Academy of Dr Phillips
Ladybird Academy of Ocoee
Ladybird Academy of Wickham Park
Ladybird Academy of Winter Garden
LadyBird Academy Windermere
Light Christian Academy and Childcare
Lil’ Lights Preschool
Little Cubs Learning Center
Little Fishes Preschool
Little Hands Learning Center
Little Orange Academy, LLC
Matthews Hope Firm Foundation Preschool
McNeil Family Day Care Home
Michelle’s Little Angels
Mitchell Family Day Care Home
Montessori Academy of Winter Garden
Montessori World School
Muslim Academy of Greater Orlando
My Kids Academy
Nana’s Town, Inc.
Oakland Presbyterian Preschool
Ocoee Oaks Preschool
Orange County Public Schools – Dillard Street Elementary
Orange County Public Schools – Spring Lake Elementary
Orange County Public Schools – Westbrooke Elementary School
Palmer Family Day Care Home
Perveen Family Day Care Home
Play and Learn Child Care and School
Powell Family Day Care Home
Premier Academy
Primrose school of Ocoee
Radiant Life Academy
Renwick Family Day Care Home
Resurrection Preschool
Reynolds Family Day Care Home
Rising Generations Childcare
Shaw Family Day Care Home
Small Steps Family Day Care
St Luke’s Child Development Center
Star Child Academy Of Winter Garden
StarChild Academy Windermere
Stoebenau Family Day Care Home
Suleman Family Day Care Home
The Goddard School
The Harvard Little League
The King’s Academy
The Learning Center of Dr. Phillips
The Learning Experience
The Learning Experience
Treasure Kids Academy
UCP Of Central Florida
UCP of Central Florida – West Campus
Victory Christian Academy
West Orlando Baptist Child Discovery Center
Westgate Children’s Learning & Development Center
Wilson Family Day Care Home
Windermere Community Preschool
Windermere Union Church Preschool
World Changers Children’s Academy LLC
YMCA at Bay Lake Elementary
YMCA at Sunset Park Elementary
Zion Lutheran Church & School

Hiring Residents: Community Building as Career Building

Hiring Residents: Community Building as Career Building

Social service non-profits form to serve particular populations but can miss the most direct forms of addressing the need they exist to meet. For instance, it took many years for advocates for people experiencing homelessness to convince the rest of us that what people that are homeless need is a home. Similarly, people that are hungry need food, and people living in poverty need money. So while there are a myriad of contributing factors to each of these issues, those who address them professionally should track, on some level, their contribution to the immediate need.

POLIS’ Community Building as Career Building program directly involves us in the economic aspect of our work. We incentivize community engagement by teaching people community-building skills, employing them part-time to utilize those skills, and helping them transfer those skills to advancement in their career aspirations.

We have identified ten key dispositions for community building and aligned them to specific tasks and career paths. Deploying this approach has led to the hiring of residents to do nearly every aspect of the community work and contextualizing this work in the framework of community building and career building. The average amount of time a resident is involved has been about four months and average hourly rate has been over 16 dollars.

We utilize this approach to deepen resident skill sets and leadership capacity. With stronger capacity, residents will be better equipped to steer partnerships toward what is most beneficial to the community.

Seize the Opportunity & Partner with Polis Today!




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.


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.

Our partners know that data insights build better solutions for a brighter world. Join us today! Visit for more information.


The Power of Stories

We all have our own stories that shape the way we are, the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we live our lives. Every chapter of our lives shapes the people we are and the people we will become. And each of our own journeys is meaningful regardless of our background—worth sharing and being listened to.

The very practice of this story interchange facilitates greater understanding of each other, the problems we’re facing, and begins the process of identifying possible solutions to seeking restoration between us, in our community, and for the city as a whole.

Stories Help Us Understand One Another

On a more concrete level, these stories allow people to know others’ background. They motivate people to understand why one would think, behave, and live the way they do. In a world full of cultural and racial differences — we want to be known, heard, and understood because we want to be valued. However, we tend to forget to listen and understand. We rob people of their dignity when we form our view of them with incomplete and inaccurate understanding of their true identities—which we obviously don’t want. To hear and to listen to people different than us not only increases our understanding of them but also validates their dignity. We should share our story recognizing its potential impact on people but most importantly we should learn to listen to seek understanding rather than to form judgment.

Stories Assist Us In Understanding the Issues We’re Facing

Another way they help a lot is how they can capture some of the important lessons in history to address critical social issues, – including racism, which is still prevalent in today’s society. History has shown us times and times again that several horrors of the past occurred because of false judgments between races, and our personal stories can also illustrate that. Without the stories shared in the past and the present, we would have not known the brutality misunderstanding and misconceptions can bring to the society. We can learn from our past and current situation that forming prejudices and perceptions of people who are different than us can create great division among individuals, groups or countries. Where we were born and who we are born to can have a great influence on the trajectory of our future and these differences in backgrounds that define our identity and our beliefs will affect the way we view others and the way we treat others. As we reflect on history and our own stories on racial relations, we are to address the sad reality in our century, and work to destroy this picture of a “us-and-them” relationship and instead build a “us” relationship.

Stories Help Identify Possible Solutions to Our Issues

Our stories, made of trials and victories, not only reflect our brokenness and our imperfections but also our longing to be complete. There are no stories that are not problem-based and there are no stories that do not long for restoration. As we look to make the world a better place for all, we are to understand how stories can help us identify solutions to our issues. Sharing and listening to each others’ stories enhances our ability to analyze and learn from experiences. Since birth, each one of us was exposed to stories, which led us to form ways or abilities to use stories to process information. We subconsciously create for ourselves a framework that facilitates the way we resolve problems. We tend to look back to our own stories or other people stories to form a pathway to resolve complex issues in our lives and others’.

As we think about current social issues, we can use the power of stories to identify solutions together to make a step in resolving them.

These are what Polis aims to do for the community as it tries to help people change many cultural norms so they can thrive.

“Stories are much more powerful than stats and other forms of presenting information,” said Polis Founder Phil Hissom. “Until we share our own stories with others, we won’t unravel racism in America. It is woven into the fabric of our nation. We need to figure out where we are at before we can begin to fix anything.” In the end, our stories can capture people’s hearts to motivate them to take actions for a better world. Our stories are gifts to others and others’ stories are gifts to us. It promotes the truth that no matter where we are from or who were born to, we all have something to bring to the table. We all have an ability to influence others positively through our life journey and the different skills we have  and gifts we’ve been given to work for the greater good. Our stories are a powerful instrument to show and appreciate each individual’s uniqueness and their potential to work for a purpose bigger than ourselves: to bring restoration by working together with an understanding of our peers and the problems they face.



Over the last few decades, the fast-moving urbanism in America has dramatically shaped new dynamics in community well-being across the country. A few factors that illustrate this are longer hours at work, non-family-friendly environments, domination of the media, and behavioral changes. These things greatly, negatively affect the population, particularly families.

The government and other organizations integrate different services to help people deal with this change but neglect the significance of strong communities that promote the well-being of individuals and families. At the same time, local services often struggle to support vulnerable families and meet their needs because doing so is not an easy task to take on. Many families fail to use services offered to them because they don’t know they exist or they are unwilling to access them. There is a need to make the people engaged in the community more, to contribute to their advancement, but it’s not at all easy. That’s where place-based approach comes in because it integrates services to build strong communities.

Place-based approach targets the whole community and addresses the different complex issues at a neighborhood level and the needs families have in the community. This approach aims to destroy the challenges people face that may stop the community and its population to thrive to its full potential. One of the main focuses of a place-based approach is to build stronger communities through stronger support for vulnerable families, including parents and children. It seeks to create service systems to engage such families, addressing the root cause of their issues in order to help meet their needs and the needs of their community—with a goal of lasting change. Whoever is utilizing place-based approach to help a community should make sure that whatever systems they set up are not just good systems, but those that can meet the tangible needs of the community members. Then, it’s up to the community members to engage for the betterment not only of their family, but the whole neighborhood.

Even within fast-changing environments, each community is filled with people with gifts and talents, who can change the course of their life and the world around them. Through a place-based approach, they are able to know their worth and have the self-dignity to be pioneers of change and transform their community to be healthy and strong.



In late 2018, Southwestern Social Science Association (SSSA) held their annual meeting in Orlando, with Polis Institute community development experts and University of Central Florida (UCF) interdisciplinary public affairs doctoral students among the panelists.

The meeting—run by SSSA, a social science association dedicated to promote knowledge and understanding of today’s world—gathers professional scholars, graduates, and undergraduates from all over the world to share intellect and encourage collaboration while building strong relationships among themselves.

The staff from Polis Institute and doctoral students from UCF partnered together to submit to the SSSA committee a community-based participatory research (CBPR) for Polis’ West Lakes MVP Families program—an effort to promote building strong families and stronger communities by walking alongside community members to empower them and help them develop as leaders..

SSSA committee refers to this academic partnership between both parties as  “An example of a Collaborative Community-University Partnership for Social Change.” The research was mainly focused on the impact of strong families in a community. It specifically aimed to bring out the perspectives of people in the community about the key factors of strong communities and the impact of having a program such as West Lakes MVP Families in the lives of their children, their own lives, and the community.

This project allowed Polis Institute and the doctoral students to work together to grow their knowledge and understanding of the local community, and build meaningful relationships. This CBPR could be replicated for other community-based organizations that have an interest in this type of partnership.

Polis Institute is a community-based organization that designs solutions to social problems in underappreciated neighborhoods.

The MVP program was established on the concept of the two-generation approach (2Gen) initiated by Aspen Institute. 2Gen consists of centralizing efforts in creating opportunities and addressing the needs of both the children and the parents in the family.


Save the Date

Join us for PI Day 2019

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!

Click below for more info and to RSVP



In this broken world, taking the time to learn about each other is pivotal for our health, both as individuals and a society. Hearing one another’s stories and growing in understanding of them allows us to connect with them and the world around us better. Sharing, too, is an act of bravery, an art people take for granted.

That is why Shawn Welcome decided to found a gathering open mic event called “Diverse Word” in 2006. Diverse Word is an open mic night in Orlando that is conducive and welcoming to all forms of spoken word such as poetry, songs, comedy, rap. It typically meets Tuesday night at Dandelion Cafe, but now meets in various locations throughout the city.

Welcome, a well-known spoken word poet from Brooklyn who now lives in Orlando, started Diverse Word after he experienced the homogeneity of the open mic scene in Orlando. He wanted to bring people from different backgrounds together to share their love for poetry and connect with the community. This is one of the reasons Polis hired Welcome, hoping to make Diverse Word a core component of their organization. They knew what a significant role it could play in fulfilling Polis’s vision for a peaceful and prosperous world, by gathering locals in a safe space where they can express themselves in creative ways, while respecting what others have to say.

Diverse Word and Polis hold that every person is valuable, as is what they have to offer to the community. They believe every human has dignity, no matter who they are or where they are from and that everyone has the right to make their voices heard, in the hopes of bringing hope and change in the community.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, people often qualify vulnerability as weakness, not recognizing the importance of transparency about pain, feelings, and emotions. Suppressing that emotional expression can bring anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem or self-dignity, a general decrease in positive emotions, and a lack of satisfaction and connectedness to the world around us. This is what Diverse Word is attacking.

Diverse Word identifies every human as relational beings, people who need to feel connected to other people. That is one reason this open mic is so great — sharing struggles and pain that allow a deep connection with who they are, while encouraging relating  to others as well. This helps in dealing with one’s own feelings and emotions and being comfortable in one’s own skin, instead of destroying themselves inside because of their fear of judgment from people. It brings a sense of healing within us and a motivation to take initiative to bring change in one’s life that will then help us flourishing in other areas of life. One woman, for instance, got out of depression from being able to share her journey through her platform at Diverse Word.

Over the years, Diverse Word has grown and greatly influenced the lives of the people in the community. The open mic event has fostered increasing creative expression in the community, one where people have begun to thinking of themselves as members of the society through their art. The space provided by Diverse Word has helped people  develop higher self-esteem because they’ve been given a platform for their voices to be heard—articulating their feelings and thoughts, which has generated discussions and conversations about different topics such as social and cultural issues in the community. This has encouraged them to be more engaged in the community.

Through the years, people’s stories showed that creative expression increases the maturity in dealing with emotions in a healthy way. Diverse Word has created a place where people are cared for as they go on a journey to understand themselves and their community through their art and how the courage of expressing themselves can be a great first step in bringing change to the community.

Polis and Welcome hope Diverse Word continues to create a space for all to understand their human nature and experiences and share it in both secular and faith environments. They hope it remains a safe place for people to share their pain and struggles through creativity, which is an effective way to minister to people.


For those interested, Diverse Word’s first quarterly competition of the year, called Diverse Word Winter Slam 2019, will be held this Tuesday, January 29th, 2019. Click Here to view event.

If you are interested in learning more about Diverse Word you can contact Shawn directly:

Cell: 407-683-6329


Day for Kids

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!


Congratulations to the Town of Eatonville!

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.