Community Engagement Matters Now More Than Ever

The Strong Healthy Communities Initiative (SHCI) is sponsored by Living Cities (a consortium of 22 large foundations and financial institutions that funds urban revitalization projects), and operates with a clear theory of change: To achieve better educational outcomes for children, policymakers and community leaders must address the environmental conditions that help or hinder learning.

If kids are hungry, sick, tired, or under stress, their ability to learn will suffer. According to an impressive array of research, such conditions lie at the forefront of parents’ and kids’ minds, and they strongly affect kids’ chances of success in school. Inspired by this research, SHCI leaders have taken steps to eliminate blighted housing conditions, to build health centers in schools, and to increase access to high-quality food for low-income families.

SHCI began as an effort led by philanthropists and city leaders, but since then it has shifted its orientation to engage a broader crosssection of community stakeholders. Over time, those in charge of the initiative have built partnerships with leaders from communities and organizations throughout Newark. “We avoid a top-down approach as much as possible,” says Monique Baptiste-Good, director of SHCI. “We start with community and then engage established leaders. When we started, a critical decision was to operate like a campaign and not institutionalize as an organization. We fall to the background and push our partners’ capacity forward. Change happens at the pace people can adapt.”

Read the Article