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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.

New Report Finds Children in Rural Communities Face Higher Risk of Food Insecurity

The following post was written with the support of Feeding America staff. Feeding America is one of the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charities. Their mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.
Across America, communities continue to experience the impact of high unemployment, underemployment, reduced wages, and high poverty rates, but some communities and populations are disproportionately affected. Map the Meal Gap 2014, an annual report from Feeding America released this week reveals that no community is free of hunger, and that children living in rural communities are disproportionately impacted. Fifty-nine percent of communities that face high rates of child food insecurity are rural. In these highly food insecure counties, more than 1 in 3 children qualify as food insecure.
Residents of rural communities often face multiple challenges to gaining an adequate, nutritious diet; including high food costs, transportation hurdles, and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Food insecure children are less likely to have access to afterschool and summer feeding sites that protect them from hunger when school is out. Their parents may have to travel great distances to get to a SNAP office.
In addition to providing local-level food insecurity estimates, Map the Meal Gap 2014 estimates the share of food insecure individuals who are likely income-eligible for federal anti-hunger programs like SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs. In 94 percent of counties, the majority of food insecure households with children are income-eligible for federal nutrition programs. This finding underscores the importance of programs such as free and reduced-price lunch and WIC that are targeted at households with children. It also emphasizes the importance of increasing access to federal nutrition programs, especially when we know children experience nutritional gaps over the weekends, holidays, or summer. For example, USDA data show that far fewer children participate in breakfast (11.2 million) and summer food assistance programs (2.4 million) than those who receive free or reduced-price lunch (21 million). We can also take steps to support charitable feeding programs that help fill in the gaps for children who lack access to federal nutrition programs; or for children whose families struggle to put food on the table but make slightly too much income to qualify for federal assistance.
Particularly within rural communities, improved program access and innovative delivery models can help to improve participation rates. For example, there are only about 42 summer food sites for every 100 lunch programs nationwide. In addition to increasing the number of summer feeding sites, policy makers should support alternative summer delivery models, such as delivering meals to low-income neighborhoods rather than requiring families to find transportation to a summer site; or allowing families to pick up a week’s worth of meals to eat at home rather than requiring children to travel to the site each day.
Other findings on child hunger from Map the Meal Gap 2014 include:

  • Among the top 10% of counties with the highest child food insecurity rates, more than 1 in 3 children struggle with food insecurity.

  • The South contains nearly 90 percent of high food insecurity rate counties.

  • Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity.

Both food insecurity and eligibility rates vary from county to county. By providing data about hunger at the state, congressional district, and county level, Map the Meal Gap can help policymakers, service providers, and advocates identify strategies to best reach the families and children in need of food assistance. We encourage you to explore the full findings of the report as well as an interactive map and downloadable state fact sheets are available online at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.

HUD Lauds Chicago-area Program for Equitable Development

A recent article from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Policy Development and Research division focused on the importance of ensuring equity in communities’ smart growth plans. HUD’s definition of “smart growth,” in this case, included intentional thinking and planning to support “safe, healthy, equitable, and prosperous communities.” Regional collaboration in the Chicago area was specifically cited as a model of intentionally supporting equity in housing development.
The Chicago Regional Housing Choice Initiative (CRHCI) officially launched with the help of HUD in 2011, but has been working as a multi-sector collaborative effort to address affordable housing concerns since 1999. HUD supports the CRCHI pilot in part to demonstrate “if mobility counseling and the regional administration of local PHA resources can give families desirable location outcomes while reducing government costs and administrative burdens.” The Initiative consists of eight area PHAs, the Metropolitan Planning Council, HUD, and a non-profit partner.
These Chicago-area partners were motivated to address affordable housing and equity issues because of the region’s growing imbalance between jobs and affordable housing, and fears that these developments threatened the region’s economic competitiveness. Simply put: people could not find affordable housing on the incomes provided by the area’s fastest growing labor markets. The mismatch of jobs, labor needs, housing, and affordability meant that residents could often not afford to live near their jobs and neighborhoods became increasingly segregated by income.
To begin to address these issues, CRHCI encourages families to use Housing Choice Vouchers to facilitate access to different neighborhoods, spurs the construction of mixed-income housing, and provides mobility counseling to families seeking affordable housing. The pilot project has had successes—345 vouchers provide subsidies in 28 communities, with more than 1,700 apartments either in use or in development. CRCHI also uses data from HUD to map the region using an “opportunity index” which assesses neighborhood quality based on housing stability, job access, and transit access. The information helps CRHCI identify “high-opportunity areas” that may be suitable sites for ongoing affordable housing development.
CRCHI’s success demonstrates that with intentionality and planning, affordable housing development can be equitable and financially shrewd. Ultimately, creating a regional collaborative of partners helped keep housing affordable and convenient for many. Rather than isolating lower-income families, CRCHI’s efforts help to integrate all income levels into smart growth neighborhoods that are beneficial for both community building and regional economic competitiveness.

Call for Presentations for Neighborhood Revitalization Conference 2014

The 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference, to be held July 24-25 in Washington, DC, is now accepting workshop proposals. The Conference brings together stakeholders in comprehensive community building. In its fourth year, the conference will focus on the theme of leveraging federal, philanthropic and local investments to ensure success and sustainability. Senior administration officials, policymakers and others will provide updates on federal efforts, while thought leaders and practitioners will describe efforts in the field.
The conference will feature up to 20 workshops, lasting 90 minutes each. Areas of interest for workshop content include: Measuring that Matters, Frontiers of Knowledge, Engaging All Voices, Innovative Financing Approaches, and Partnering with Purpose. Other workshop content areas germane to the field of neighborhood revitalization will also be considered. Please see the full Call for Presentations to learn more about each focus area and to find out how to submit your workshop idea.
We are proud to announce that this year’s conference will feature a special skill-building component in the focus area of Engaging All Voices. These sessions will use an interactive, hands-on format to introduce practical tools and techniques, and will progress from beginner to intermediate to advanced levels of skill building. You are welcome to submit a workshop that fits in to this track.
The conference typically attracts approximately 350 participants that include nonprofit practitioners at all levels; academic and other thought leaders; government representatives from the local, regional, and federal levels; foundation representatives; and investors interested in the future of neighborhood revitalization work. All presentation ideas must be submitted by Friday, March 21.
We look forward to an exciting and informative conference full of diverse topics from presenters around the country! Send in your presentation ideas soon!


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by Dr. Radut