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Promise Neighborhoods: Hope for a better community

Related story: The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative:  Civic engagement in action


Irasema Salcido, CEO and founder of Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy

Annie O'Neill

On paper, Washington DC’s Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood, just a few miles from Capitol Hill, looks like many other underserved urban communities. 

Thirty-eight percent of children live below the poverty line; 72 percent of families are headed by a single female; 25 percent of children are born to teen mothers; 20 percent of adults are unemployed; three out of four schools are underperforming; etc.

But when you actually visit Parkside and talk to the people living and working there, you quickly discover many assets — strong civic engagement, caring and committed teachers and principals, land for growth and development — that can be tapped to generate positive change. 

And this is exactly what’s happening.

Parkside-Kenilworth is one of 21 recipients of a U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhood planning grant. The DC Parkside Neighborhood Initiative is using this grant to increase the number of children who complete their educations — from cradle to college.

Earlier this year, the Parkside-Kenilworth team gave several of us a tour of the neighborhood and discussed the problems the community faces and their strategy for making it better and stronger.

As comprehensive community developers, we value and praise organizations that successfully engage residents and forge partnerships with key institutions, government agencies, funders and others who provide the resources and support so necessary to our work.

Key individuals

I agree with Studs Terkel, “It’s the community in action that accomplishes more than any individual does, no matter how strong he may be.” 

But it is also true that, at the heart of successful community organizations, there are key individuals whose commitment and determination inspire others to hope for a better community, and to take action to achieve it.

Irasema Salcido, who founded the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in Parkside-Kenilworth, is one example. 

Salcido is determined to provide Parkside-Kenilworth children with better opportunities for learning. She reached out to the community’s traditional public schools to join a coalition of nonprofits, businesses, and churches and to forge a plan and win the Promise Neighborhood grant to implement it.

“We don’t care whether you are a traditional school or a charter school; it doesn’t matter,” she said. 

When she met with the other local principals, she explained, “We realized we were all facing the same challenges.”  And so she convinced them to work together to deliver what she calls the five promises that every child deserves:  caring adults, a safe environment, a healthy start, a good education, and an opportunity to give back.

The team is trying to persuade skeptical residents that this effort is different than previously failed ones, that it will change the community and give every child a chance to succeed. 

And they know that their neighbors will hold them accountable through what they call “the Safeway test.”  When they go grocery-shopping, inevitably, there is a resident there who — no matter what is going on — will hold them accountable in the aisle of Safeway. 

The DC Parkside Neighborhood Initiative has now completed its plan to ensure that the children of Parkside will enter kindergarten ready to learn, become proficient in core academic subjects, graduate from high school, and obtain a postsecondary degree or certification.

The plan is not just about academic success. It also aims to make sure students are healthy and feel safe, both at school and in their community.

"One of the most demanding things"

To get things going, Salcido and her colleagues first needed to create a new non-profit and figure out what it would do.

Oramenta Newsome, the executive director of the Washington, DC, office of LISC (left), leads a recent tour of the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood.

Annie O'Neill

Oramenta Newsome, the executive director of the Washington, DC, office of LISC, realized that the structure and responsibilities of this organization had to be carefully defined in order to position the community for success. She arranged for LISC to fund a consultant specializing in organizational development.

“That was one of my best thoughts,” Oramenta told me. “It was intriguing to me to see if we could create from the ground up a new non-profit” that could lead the community through the planning process and actually implement the changes they seek.

“It is one of the most demanding things I have ever done,” she added. 

With the completion of the Parkside-Kenilworth Promise Neighborhood Implementation Plan, the team has started to implement day-to-day programs and activities that are already bring about change.  

Stay tuned to this blog to receive updates on the five promises being made a reality in this corner in northeast Washington, DC.

Promise Neighborhood plans

LISC has also been working closely with Promise Neighborhoods efforts in other communities across the country, including teams in St. Paul, Minn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Sunset Park in Brooklyn; and Los Angeles.

These sites, after receiving an initial round of federal planning funds last year, are now competing for implementation grants.

In addition, LISC has supported the work of local partners in Providence, RI as well as San Francisco and Oakland, CA, that are hoping to receive planning grants to jump start their proposals.

With its comprehensive place-based focus, Promise Neighborhoods has been a perfect fit for LISC’s Building Sustainable Communities work, and local partners are sharing information and lessons learned across sites, as well as accessing National LISC’s expertise in early learning, education, recreation, food and nutrition, and health and safety.

For a review of the Promise Neighborhood grant applications submitted in September, visit the Investing in Community Change website.

Latest News: Choice Neighborhood

The Parkside-Kenilworth Sustainable Community has also been awarded a planning grant by HUD for its Choice Neighborhood program. Watch a video about the event:

Posted in Thinking Out Loud, Washington, DC

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