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NRC Feature: Successful Collaboration to Revitalize New Jersey

The following post was written by Kendall Reingold, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building.  She is an undergraduate student assisting with the planning of the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. Continue to check the Building Neighborhoods blog for more NRC Features ahead of the July Conference.
 
We’ve all heard the tragic story: Camden, New Jersey, a metropolis overrun with crime; the poster child of postindustrial decline; the most dangerous city in America.  A case hackneyed by partisan arguments about violence, welfare, and industry, it sadly has not seen much in the way of solutions-based discussion, let alone viable action.  Until now, that is.
 
This year, the Alliance’s Neighborhood Revitalization Conference will feature a workshop entitled “A Shared Approach: Communicating, Collaborating, and Coordinating to Revitalize New Jersey Neighborhoods.”  Facilitated by Lois W. Greco of the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and Community Development Corporation, Bradley Harrington of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Meishka Mitchell of the Coopers Ferry Partnership, and Staci Berger of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, the workshop demonstrates that it really is possible for residents, local stakeholders, corporations, and funders to work together toward a shared agenda.
 
The combination of public and private funding and the collaborative approach to revitalization implemented by these organizations have created physical, social and human capital programs, catalyzing measurable improvements in twenty six low-income New Jersey communities.  For instance, in the initiative’s Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program, every dollar invested leveraged over seven dollars in additional resources toward jobs and affordable housing.  The cooperative public/private approach to uplifting New Jersey’s neighborhoods received the 2013 HUD Secretary’s Award for Philanthropic-Public Partnerships.
 
The workshop, held on July 24, the first day of the Neighborhood Revitalization Conference, will use the case study of Camden to discuss the real costs and benefits of such a large-scale effort and to demonstrate how other neighborhoods can implement similar public/private initiatives.
 
Early bird registration for the Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is available online until June 24.  For the latest details about the conference and these presenters, stay tuned on Twitter.  Follow the Alliance’s Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building and keep up with conference news using the hashtag #NRC14.  You can also follow panelist Staci Berger for updates on her continued work toward a better New Jersey.

Guest Blogger: An Ideal Theater: My Dear Miss Addams

The following post was written by Faye Price, co-Artistic Director of Pillsbury House + Theatre, one of 5 neighborhood centers of Alliance member organization Pillsbury United Communities, a 21st century successor to the vision of Hull House founder Jane Addams. The publisher of an Ideal Theater: Founding Visions for New American Art by Todd London solicited this article as a contemporary response to an excerpt from Ms. Addams’ Twenty Years of Hull-House, specifically about the Hull House Players. This artistic activity is often credited by London and others with inspiring not only the neighborhood but the entire American Little Theatre movement.
 
My Dear Miss Addams,
 
Thank you for your enormous vision. Your humanitarian instincts and thoughtful determination are responsible for a not-so-minor revolution in the American theatre. I know your work was meant to help new immigrants make their way in this country, to fight inequality and end the deplorable living conditions of the poor, but thank you for recognizing that theater could be a powerful tool in your fight for social justice. You systematically insured that theatrical performance was not only available but also accessible and participatory for a population that was new to this country and struggling to thrive amid vast inequities. As a result of your work at Hull-House and the establishment of the Hull-House Players, hundreds of settlement houses across the country incorporated the arts into their programming by 1914. You were also a vocal pacifist, impassioned labor reformer, and crusading suffragette. It’s no wonder J Edgar Hoover called you “The most dangerous woman in America.”
 
There are still a few of us following your vision today, Miss Addams. In New York both Henry Street Settlement and University Settlement have vibrant stages that present and produce community-based art programming. Karamu House in Cleveland continues its long-standing production of African American Theatre. And in Minneapolis, Pillsbury House, a settlement that was established in 1905, continues the tradition of using the arts to improve the lives of individuals and strengthen the health of our communities. The tenements may look a little different these days. The languages have also changed; we are hearing more Spanish, Hmong and Somali languages here in Minnesota as opposed to the Polish, Italian and Greek parlance of Chicago in the early 20th century. And our traditional Settlement services have been updated to provide more culturally specific services to new Americans. But settlement houses are indeed alive, slightly reconfigured and unfortunately still necessary in this country as the economic, educational and racial disparities in this country grow wider each day.
 
Here in Minneapolis at Pillsbury House +Theatre, we see every day the profound effect that art has not only on individuals but on our surrounding community as well. It’s not unusual for a young adult in college to return to the center, for example, expressing great gratitude for the confidence and leadership skills that our youth theatre mentoring program, the Chicago Avenue Project, instilled in them.
 
Pillsbury House Theatre was established in 1992 as a professional theatre housed in a community center (Pillsbury House Neighborhood Center), committed to the Settlement House tradition of creating art in collaboration with community. In 2009, the community center and the theatre made a bold move to integrate their programs and operations under the theatre’s artistic leadership to create Pillsbury House + Theatre, an ideal living 21st century example of the principles that animated you.
 
Our vision is of a new kind of arts organization, a center for creativity and community that is both professional and community-driven, that is known for artistic excellence and broad accessibility, and that engages a diverse constituency which benefits individually and collectively from participation. We are integrating arts content throughout our human services programming like HIV outreach and truancy prevention, animating programs like day care and after school activities through arts learning, experience and practice. We have four Resident Teaching Artists that work alongside human service staff to develop and implement curricula that use arts activities as a core part of their programs. Days here are infused with theatre, dance, puppetry, music, painting, collage, and other art forms. Art is used not merely to complement other programming, but to support and enhance program outcomes. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this approach makes outcomes easier to achieve. People are more excited to participate and, through the practice of creativity, they grow their own capacity to succeed.
 
One of the other elements that make PHT particular in the world of the Settlement House arts tradition is that we are an award-winning professional theatre using Equity actors, housed in a neighborhood center, located in an urban neighborhood that intimidates some. We do community-driven work, but we also produce and commission provocative new work by some of the American Theater’s brightest playwrights. For the past 10 years, PHT has had at least one production mentioned in the “Best of the Year” lists in the local theatre media. Our work is rooted in the belief that the highest quality art is an essential part of every community.
 
Yet because we are situated in a neighborhood that has a bad reputation, we battle the notion that we produce amateur, lesser-quality theatre—as if choosing to be in a community equates to lower standards. Or that the privilege of paying to park your car means that your arts experience will be of the highest caliber. Or if you don’t own a car, you certainly can’t appreciate great art. We have been referred to as Pillsbury Playhouse or Pillsbury Puppet Theater by perfectly well meaning folks whose words are still condescending and diminishing.
 
So while your work has had massive repercussions, some things have not changed, Miss Addams. The arts are still often presented as an experience to be consumed by those with cultivated taste. While the regional theater movement that came later in the century decentralized theatre away from New York and provided training and employment to local residents, I’m afraid there was a loss of your original ideas about the value of art in the local community. This regional push for professionalism helped to stimulate the economy but also somehow has made it more difficult to see your children or your neighbors onstage in your own community. Indigenous stories once performed so proudly by the newly arrived immigrants at Hull-House have been co-opted by the non-profit American theatre and produced in a building far, far from home.
 
At PH+T, we are going to continue to push your ideas forward, Miss Addams, testing how much a Settlement House animated by creativity can democratize the arts and strengthen an underserved community.  Inside of our theatre, the demographics of our audience certainly show that people diverse in age, income level and ethnicity can share arts experiences. We see women from shelters sitting beside well-to-do lawyers from the suburbs and Somali teenagers sitting next to Caucasian senior citizens. As we look outward, we are beginning to work with a consortium of community partners on a shared Creative Community Development plan for our community, to develop the creative assets of the four neighborhoods surrounding the theatre and increase attachment, access, engagement and upward mobility among residents. I’d like to think that we are doing you proud, investing in people, investing in neighborhoods, by restoring theatre “to its rightful place in the community”.
 
Read the original.
 

Measuring the Impacts of Multi-Generational Family Supports

Demographic shifts in America have changed family structures and have altered the flow of dependency between generations. Many Americans in middle age find themselves supporting both children and aging parents. Many older Americans are now the primary guardians for their grandchildren. Rather than a linear model of older generations caring for younger ones, modern families often resemble more of a net: where supports move between all generations inter-dependently. An increasing amount of data lends credence to the anecdotal evidence we can all see throughout our communities.
 
The Alliance for Children and Families, in partnership with Generations United and coinciding with the United Nations International Day of the Family, recently released a report, “Intergenerational Family Connections: The Relationships that Support a Strong America,” to try and assess what some of these connections look like. The report is part of "Committing to Our Families," a signature series on the state of families from the journal Families in Society at the Alliance for Children and Families.
 
The Alliance and Generations United surveyed more than 2,000 adults about their intergenerational family bonds across age, income levels, and distance. Findings show that family members are highly dependent on each other and give their time and financial resources in many crucial ways including basic needs, health care, education, and child care. Having a dependable support system helps families to foster resilience and the ability to better manage various traumas and life challenges.
 
The survey results suggest some interesting findings—including the tendency for family connectedness to increase with income, and variations in family connectedness across different racial and ethnic groups—that warrant further study. This Alliance and GU survey, and similar research, serve as a starting point for a discussion about how we adjust public policies to meet the needs of modern families. As the United Nations states, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” As demographics change, society must adapt to meet the new needs of modern families.

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The Pay-Offs of Social Capital

A recent event hosted by the National Human Services Assembly focused on the value of effective civic engagement and mobilization for non-profits. The event, “Authentic Engagement: Policy, Advocacy, & Community Mobilizing from Main Street to Capitol Hill,” featured panelists and presenters working on mobilization, activism, and civic engagement in a variety of forms: from online petitions to rallies at the Supreme Court.
 
For organizations with tightly restricted resources, as many non-profits often are, the return on investment for civic engagement activities can seem vague at best. Encouraging people in your community to be engaged, empowered, and passionate may intuitively feel like a good thing to do; but is it worth redirecting scarce resources toward civic engagement and mobilization activities when they could go to important direct services like housing, job skills training, food, child care, and so on?
 
We believe that the answer is ‘yes.’ Authentic engagement of community residents can have transformative impact on neighborhoods and cities. This is especially true in under-resourced or disadvantaged communities (read: “Measuring the Impacts of Civic Engagement”). Becoming civically engaged increases someone’s social capital and connectedness to his or her community. This in turn makes engaged residents more resilient, better-resourced, and more participatory in community change.
 
Service providers need a shift in thinking from one-off transactions to whole-person and whole-community impacts. Being civically engaged is not something that people do just because they think it’s a good idea. There are multiplier effects for increasing residents’ social capital. Linda Nguyen, Director of Civic Engagement at the Alliance for Children and Families and a panelist at the event, said, “Organizations can and need to shift their thinking from viewing people they serve as ‘clients’ to ‘community leaders.’  Only then can we even begin to think about truly achieving mission. Service providers are often trusted places of mutual benefit and community. We should harness that trust to collectively address the root causes of social ills and injustice.”
 
In cities and neighborhoods all over the country, there are places where someone can go if they have trouble with food security, or education needs, or housing, etc. But there’s no brick-and-mortar place where someone can go to increase their social capital. Authentic engagement achieves this, and all of the other incipient benefits that come to an individual, a family, a community, and (ultimately) a democracy.

Edgewood Is Changing

The following post was written by Derrick Beasley, Community Support Liaison at Alliance for Children and Families member agency Families First in Atlanta, Georgia. Families First, through its multiple locations, collaborations with community partners, and virtual services responds whenever and wherever they are needed. Families First is a 120+ year old organization that is building strategy to go beyond direct service and lead a cultural transformation to galvanize community responsibility for all children. Derrick was a member of the first cohort of New Voices Civic Engagement Fellows in 2011.
 
I recently read an article on Colorlines.com that detailed gentrification in Oakland, California. The article caused me to reflect on a similar, yet different transition in the Edgewood neighborhood on the East side of Atlanta.
 
As community organizer and family coach first entering the neighborhood three years ago, I quickly noticed that Edgewood was a neighborhood undergoing some serious changes. If you drive through the neighborhood today, you will notice a relatively new retail district anchored by major retailers including Target, Best Buy and Lowes, several newly renovated homes, a few residential construction projects, a large, old and highly subsidized housing development, several churches and several abandoned or dilapidated single family dwellings.  This is not a particularly unique scenario in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Atlanta.
 
While neighborhoods in Oakland are experiencing tension related to affordability of housing, the tension in Edgewood and its adjacent, also-gentrifying neighborhoods is coming to a head in the form of public education.  As the city struggles to recover from a school district-wide cheating scandal, and enrollment in public schools in Edgewood drops, the neighborhood has seen an influx of influence from its newer, more affluent residents.  Issues of race and class have arisen from both sides of the debate over what to do with neighborhood schools whose effectiveness has been brought into question.  These issues have been a threat to the progress of Edgewood for the last several years. However the same issues that pose a major challenge also make it poised to transform into a neighborhood inhabited by a diverse, thriving population.
 
Between place-based philanthropic efforts and other nonprofit entities, Edgewood has more than a few organizations and individuals committed to ensuring those with the least resources still have a voice in the change that is coming to the neighborhood. My organization, Families First, is committed to building capacity of the current parent voice in the neighborhood while building bridges to the newer parent voice to ensure a unified vision for education. While there are pieces of this puzzle that are outside  our sphere of influence, we know that we can equip parents whose voices have not been heard in the past with the tools to amplify their voices and communicate their own vision for their community to those in positions of power.  We also know that change can be a positive thing for Edgewood as long as it is built on a foundation of equity, inclusion and respect.

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by Dr. Radut