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NCP Neighborhood Network Gears Up for 2014

It’s not a “program” anymore. It’s a proven way of doing business.

NCP program staff Jake Ament and Dominique Williams experience the power of the NCP Neighborhood Network to generate hope, ideas and action.

Vincent Edmunds

And LISC’s method – engaging leaders on the issues and equipping them with the information and resources they need to create neighborhood change – is just getting started.

So anyone expecting some kind of “wind-down” or “mission accomplished” message was in for a surprise at the all-NCP gathering held Nov. 21 at the Lawndale Christian Health Center.

“Together we’ve grown a sustainable network,” said Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago and former director of its New Communities Program (NCP), now called the NCP Neighborhood Network.

“And that network,” she continued, “remains committed to this notion of neighborhoods working together to get things done.”

Past as prologue

Vasquez explained how the first 10 years of NCP – a decade of path-breaking work with core funding of $50 million from the MacArthur Foundation – points the way to a second decade of even greater possibilities.  

More funders will come aboard, she predicted, so long as the LISC Network maintains the same commitment and energy level that made the program a national model for comprehensive community development. After all, Vasquez recounted, LISC Chicago has been able to raise an additional $50 million from funders as varied as Atlantic Philanthropies (for Elev8 middle-school programming and on-site health centers), JP Morgan Chase (for LISC’s Centers for Working Families.), and the federal government (for the five-neighborhood Smart Communities program that helps residents gain digital skills).

Team members from the Pilsen and Quad communities are grouped together to identify potential partners for advancing their work.

Vincent Edmunds

Even more important, the 16 lead agencies leveraged another $500 million from public, private and philanthropic sources for projects and programs identified in their quality-of-life plans. Achievements included numerous mixed-use real estate developments, commercial district Special Service Areas, digital literacy and connectivity programs, neighborhood sports leagues and ongoing education and health efforts.

There’s no reason the work can’t continue and expand, said Vasquez, as more funders discover that the Network is the most cost-effective way to obtain measureable results on tough challenges such as safety, job readiness and community health. To that end, LISC Chicago recently launched a three-year campaign to raise $40 million for continued growth of the Network, which now supports 70 neighborhood partners.

“Organized money and organized people can achieve a lot,” seconded Raul Raymundo, veteran executive director of The Resurrection Project (TRP) in the Pilsen neighborhood. “The idea of today’s meeting is to get to know one another more in depth, see what kind of work we’re doing, and find opportunities to work together in a stronger collective.”

Shuffle buzz

A first exercise was to shuffle the room so the nearly 100 attendees could spend 20 minutes swapping experiences and ideas with Network members they had yet to meet.

Peer-to-peer learning at its best as ideas are exchanged among fellow community development professionals.

Patrick Barry

“Find someone you don’t know and have a conversation,” urged Jackie Samuel of Claretian Associates in setting up the shuffle. “I guarantee you’re going to find out why they’re here, what’s their passion, what’s their dream.”

Whereupon the room buzzed with excited conversation, as front-line community development pros such as Liz Rosas-Landa of TRP swapped info with Lynette Washington, who works on employment with the Cara Program in Quad Communities.

Later, Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., set the tone for the morning’s principal exercise. Neighborhoods grouped up at tables to identify potential partners for advancing their work in issue areas from technology to housing, from immigration reform to economic development.

Nelson explained that “peer-to-peer learning” – being able to exchange ideas with fellow community development professionals – is an essential tool for building both skills and relationships.

“It’s not just a program,” said Nelson, explaining how NCP breeds neighborhood competence. “It’s a movement – a movement that pushes aside the notion of top-down development and empowers ordinary citizens to do what we do. And what’s that? Altogether now: Engage. Plan. Act. Communicate. Evaluate. Repeat. ”

Post-it pearls

At one table, leaders from the Near West Side’s West Haven neighborhood and the nearby Garfield Park Community Council picked each other’s brains about potential allies for advancing their work.

“How about the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago?” asked Mike Tomas, executive director of LISC’s East Garfield Park lead agency. “We could develop a stronger relationship, I think, especially in identifying job openings.”

Areas of highest priority for program development and fundraising efforts include education, housing and safety.

Vincent Edmunds

One by one each table sent a runner to affix their ideas, scribbled on color-coded Post-it notes, onto broad sheets of white paper hung in the front of the room.

“I’m guessing you began this exercise thinking you have three or four ideas, but now I see some of you are running out of Post-its,” said David McDowell, senior organizer at Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), who emceed the debrief. “That’s because group knowledge is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Of the dozen issue categories, two drew the most Post-its: education and housing. But there was also a big push for collective campaigns that would bring neighborhoods together on those issues and others.

In the past, the Network has steered clear of city-wide advocacy efforts, which can get political in a city known for its oft-divisive politics. But SWOP’s Jeff Bartow suggested there is an opportunity for the Network as a whole to work together on “just a few key issues” that impact all.

LISC Deputy Director Keri Blackwell asked for a show of hands about advancing such efforts, and, responding to a sea of raised hands, said that LISC would convene the full Network more often and offer administrative support to move one or two issues forward. She reiterated an earlier comment about the power in the room: “We have the bandwidth to get this done.”

The meeting ended with a moving “one-word” exercise that asked all participants to sum up the morning’s vibe. Back came the descriptors:

“Encouraged. Hopeful. Energized. Focused. Ready. Proud. Charged. Motivated. Inspired. Fired up.”

LISC Program Officer, Evaluation & Impact Taryn Roch looks at the sea of ideas, scribbled on color-coded Post-it notes that she will analyze.

Keri Blackwell


More information: Keri Blackwell, Deputy Director, 312.422.9558


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