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United Neighborhood Centers of America Finalizes Transformation

Effective January 1, 2014, the United Neighborhood Centers of America (UNCA) has merged its membership with that of the Alliance for Children and Families. Together, the memberships form a powerful network of approximately 500 private, non-profit human and community development organizations throughout the United States and Canada. The membership, staff, and partners of UNCA are proud to join forces with the Alliance. Each organization brings more than a century of experience and expertise to help their member organizations better serve more than 5 million neighbors annually.
 
UNCA was originally founded as a network of settlement houses and grew to represent the values of neighborhood building and community engagement nationally. Those values continue to serve an integral role in the Alliance’s vision of “a healthy society and strong communities for all children, adults, and families.” To continue to inculcate these values in the work of the Alliance’s non-profit network, the Alliance and UNCA have established the national Center on Engagement and Neighborhood Building.
 
This new Center amplifies the values of the settlement house movement and promotes organizational culture, policy, and practice elevating asset-based community development as an effective and sustainable method of building stronger, healthier, and more viable and resilient communities. The Center believes that “lasting solutions come from within,” and guides its work with the engagement values of comprehensive and interconnected human and community development, social justice, and reciprocity. Beginning in 2014, The Center will advocate for neighborhood building through:


  • Opportunity driven special projects,

  • Research, special publications, and media,

  • Public policy and advocacy,

  • Training, consultation, and technical assistance,

  • Conferences and special convening events,

  • Special leadership and change efforts,

  • And serving as a clearinghouse of effective practices.

 
Continue to follow this blog as well as alliance1.org, unca.org, and @UnitedNeighCtrs and @AllianceNews on Twitter for more information on The Center as their work begins to take shape throughout 2014. You are also welcome to contact staff if you have questions. The values of the settlement house movement have continued for decades because the work that they do and the resident-focused solutions that they seek continue to be relevant. The Alliance for Children and Families and the new Center on Engagement and Neighborhood Building are honored to be a part of this long history and rich future.

White House Announces Inaugural “Promise Zones”

Last week, coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Obama reiterated his long-standing commitment to neighborhood revitalization and community building by announcing the first five “Promise Zones.” Each community designated a Promise Zone will be targeted for comprehensive, interagency, cooperative assistance with projects aimed at fighting poverty and blight. Up to 20 Promise Zones will be designated in the next four years. The first five are: San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
 
The Promise Zones initiative grew out of the White House’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), meant to encourage place-based policy development and interagency cooperation for the purpose of creating “Ladders of Opportunity” out of poverty for some of the country’s most-blighted communities. Through NRI, low income neighborhoods were targeted for community-based housing, education, and public safety projects that prioritized local needs and resident-centered decision making. NRI and Promise Zones both acknowledge that every community is unique and so needs individualized responses to fighting poverty.
 
Eligible applicants were limited in the first round of Promise Zone designations to existing NRI grantees, but the next round will be open to any community that meets the eligibility criteria. The application may be available as early as February, 2014. For more information about each of the five new Promise Zones, read below.
 
Los Angeles, CA (Neighborhoods of Pico Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Hollywood, and East Hollywood): Los Angeles’ Promise Zone will work toward increasing housing affordability, expanding their existing community schools model, improving career and technical education opportunities, improved public transit infrastructure, and charging local political leadership with improving efficiency.
 
We are pleased to announce that Alliance member agency the Youth Policy Institute is a lead partner in LA’s Promise Zone. Dixon Slingerland, Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute, said of the announcement:
 
“It was an honor for me to join Mayor Eric Garcetti at the White House last week for President Obama’s historic announcement that Los Angeles had been designated as a Promise Zone, one of only three cities selected in the nation. YPI is proud to be the lead partner with the City in this effort and to be the only agency in the country to have been awarded all three White House signature neighborhood revitalization initiatives — Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, and Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation. YPI believes, as the President does, that a child’s zip code should never determine her destiny.”
 
San Antonio, TX (Eastside Neighborhood): San Antonio’s Promise Zone will focus on job creation and training, the establishment of high quality pre-K programs, improved college access and adult education initiatives, and improved public safety through better street lighting and demolishing abandoned buildings.
 
Philadelphia, PA (West Philadelphia): Philadelphia’s Promise Zone will focus on improved job skills training and adult education, small business development, building a supermarket in the West Philadelphia neighborhood to provide both jobs and better quality food, mentoring middle and high school youth for college readiness, and better community-based policing efforts.
 
Southeastern Kentucky (Kentucky Highlands): In the Kentucky Highlands, the Promise Zone will help to diversify the economy and make it more resilient by leveraging private sector funds to grow small businesses, training youth in entrepreneurship and leadership, and developing metrics to evaluate college and career readiness.
 
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: The Choctaw Nation’s Promise Zone will focus on improved workforce training, investing in infrastructure, improving education through better data sharing, more parent supports, and early literacy initiatives, and pursuing economic diversification.

A Great Society Regained?

January 8, 2014, marks the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty. President Lyndon Johnson famously declared “unconditional war on poverty in America” during his first State of the Union address in 1964 (watch video). A progressive agenda of anti-poverty and anti-discrimination policies sprang from federal government during LBJ’s term: the creation of new agencies such as Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation; new legislation such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Child Nutrition Act; new programs such as Head Start, food stamps (now SNAP), Medicare, and Medicaid; as well as the crucial Civil Rights Act all came forth as part of the new vision of a “Great Society.”
 
As the decades have passed, the persistence of poverty and rising inequality in America has led critics to dismiss the notion of a Great Society as unrealistic progressive idealism. Many initiatives of the War on Poverty have been defunded, restricted or dismantled (in the case of the Office of Economic Opportunity). A mantra of “personal responsibility” inspires critics to preach that the nation’s 50 million poor people, 13 million of them children, are undeserving of assistance meeting basic needs.
 
However, many advocates point to a pendulum-swing in the opposite direction heralding a second life for the Great Society. President Obama is expected to make income inequality a central piece of his second term and is expected to focus on it heavily during in State of the Union coming up on January 28.  Many also laud the election of Bill DeBlasio in New York City, the most liberal mayor in decades in the nation’s largest city, who also speaks openly about the shame of income inequality in America.
 
The real war on poverty has been waged by the poor themselves, struggling to meet basic needs, to eke out a livelihood in an unequal society, and to meet the challenges of scarcity on a daily basis. Millions of Americans are living examples of exactly the type of “bootstrap” mentality that conservative politicians decry as lacking in a supposedly entitled lower class.  
 
President Ronald Reagan may have famously declared that, in the War on Poverty, “poverty won.” But far away from the contentious atmosphere of federal politics, many Americans have continued working tirelessly toward the vision of a Great Society. As President Johnson said in the same speech 50 years ago, “The war against poverty will not be won in Washington. It must be won in the field.” And in communities all over the country, residents have come together to serve their neighborhoods and fight the scourge of poverty locally. For decades, even predating the War on Poverty, neighborhood centers have engaged residents in finding their own solutions to their unique community needs.
 
Although the community-based work of neighborhood centers and residents has largely existed under the radar for most of the last century, now is the time for government to reinvest in this sort of place-based policy. As national attention and political capital turn toward fighting inequality in America, we need to harness the opportunity to raise the profile of neighborhood building as a realistic and sustainable practice for fighting poverty. Neighborhoods and community development are an integral part of the vision for a Great Society. The War on Poverty isn’t over, and the ideals are just as relevant now as they were 50 years ago.

Funding Opportunity: DOJ Office on Violence Against Women Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is accepting applications for its Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program (LAV). Nonprofits, tribal organizations, and education institutions are eligible to apply for grants of up to $500,000 to “increase the availability of civil and criminal legal assistance needed to effectively aid adult and youth victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.” The deadline for applications is January 30, 2014.
 
LAV makes awards to law school clinics, domestic violence victims’ programs and shelters, bar associations, rape crisis centers and other sexual assault services programs, private nonprofits, Indian tribal governments and tribal organizations, and legal aid or statewide legal services. Grants must be used to help provide legal advice and assistance free or at low cost to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking.
 
Please take note that this is an especially competitive grant process. So many exceptional applications were received in FY2013 that a portion of the FY2014 funding has already been set aside to “top-tier” 2013 applicants that were denied funding. Anyone who is interested in applying may register to attend one of two upcoming conference calls offering more information on the grant program and the application process. Calls will be held Tuesday, January 7 and Wednesday, January 8, 2014. See the additional information section for more information on registering for the calls. You can also view a list of past grantees on OVW’s website.

Committing to Community: The Transformative Impact of Community Collaboration in Education, Health, and Child Welfare

The latest issue of Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, published by the Alliance for Children and Families, features a discussion of “the essentialness of community voice in realizing the potential and well-being of individuals and families.” The nation’s oldest social work journal, Families in Society focuses on a broad array of issues that relate to the capabilities of families and communities, including consideration of various biopsychosocial, economic and cultural factors that impact those capacities. This discussion is depicted in an editorial that focuses on community collaboration examples from education and health care, and an article on the critical nature of authentic engagement in child welfare practice.
 
In “Unpacking Transformation: Committing to Community in Education and Health Care Reform,” emphasis is placed on the “growing trend” by federal agencies and foundations to call for some form of partnership with a community agency as a prerequisite for funding. The editorial also links the concept of community involvement to a central idiom of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Quoting a paper on community engagement by the Prevention Institute, the editorial states “all professionals working in communities have an obligation to strengthen collaborative efforts, as they are essential to community empowerment and self-determination—key ingredients for healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities.”
 
However, the editorial goes on to state that the process can be “complicated” and “not always successful.” Examples of these challenges are given with the push for more meaningful parent engagement in education, and the “significant” increase in funding for community-based public health projects under the Affordable Care Act. Looking at cases from these different sectors, the editorial lays out “implications for practice and policy” among social workers. The editors end by saying, “Now is the time for social work… to take the lead in facilitating impactful public participation. It is in our Code of Ethics and part of our value system to encourage and support our neighbors and communities to be healthy, strong, and autonomous.”
 
Continuing the focus on community voice, the article “An Unsuccessful Partnership: Behavioral Compliance and Strengths-Based Child Welfare Practice” further unpacks some of the ways in which the value of collaboration and community involvement can be difficult to put into practice, particularly in relation to fulfilling child protection mandates concurrently with providing supports for family self-determination and improved functioning. Although child welfare policy “prioritizes family engagement,” behavioral compliance is often used as the primary indicator of parents’ desire to improve the conditions of child safety and wellbeing in their families. In fact, as the article argues, focusing on the typical understanding of compliance is antithetical to a strengths-based model and can lead to resistance, reactive behavior, uneven power dynamics, and, ultimately, negative outcomes for children and families.
 
Recommendations in the article emphasize clinical implications for social workers and child welfare professionals, but the crux of the topic is the difficulty of putting values into practice. Although the child welfare system is increasingly prioritizing family engagement outcomes in mandated and voluntary services, a combination of strained resources and imperfect indicators often causes people to focus on the wrong things. In the end, it is not mere lip service to the values of collaboration and community engagement that matters. Authentic engagement, and real impact, can only come when these values are reflected in policy, practice and action.

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by Dr. Radut