Preparing for Work Beyond the Good Neighborhoods Initiative


Tonya Allen // Photo by Shawn Lee

In 2006, the Skillman Foundation launched the Good Neighborhoods Initiative, a 10-year $100-million commitment to six neighborhoods in Detroit. The initiative was significant. It marked a new way of working for the Foundation, both in the duration and size of the financial investment as well as the approach and philosophy of a grantmaking organization.

Having a long-term neighborhood focus was timely. The Foundation was able to concentrate funding in the communities that needed it most during some of the city’s most turbulent times. Over the past decade, Detroiters have weathered an economic recession, foreclosure crises, municipal bankruptcy, and heightened chaos in the school landscape. Working alongside community organizations and residents, we were able to stabilize or improve the life circumstances for 61,000 children.

The underlying plan for the neighborhoods work was simple: identify the leading community members and organizations in each neighborhood and work closely with them to build a lasting movement for children. We strove to make investments that would strengthen the base of the work being done, helping community organizations and leaders build capacity so that their work - and its impact - could be sustained over time beyond the Foundation’s 10-year strategy.

Our Work Ahead 

sw youth walking down street

This year, we began a strategic planning process that will take us forward into our next iteration as a Foundation. We’re reflecting on the rich lessons we’ve learned in the past decade from our neighborhood work, and are considering local, state and national trends impacting families. 

The core question we have posed is:

How do we influence Detroit’s recovery so that it will benefit and be inclusive of Detroit children? 

Gleaning insights from an array of folks, from our young neighbors to national thought leaders, we have heard: 

  • Generally speaking, Detroit youth don’t feel connected to opportunity. Their access to opportunities of all kinds (civic, recreational, educational and professional) must be increased.
  • Detroit youth don’t feel they have a voice. Engaging and empowering youth in more meaningful ways is critical.
  • Greater collaboration is necessary to increase impact – including with nontraditional partners outside of the nonprofit sector.
  • A holistic view is needed to as we collectively address issues in our community (multi-generational, whole child).

While we work to define our next strategy, we’re reflecting deeply on the city’s recovery and our changing context. Some of the key things we are thinking about are: 

  • How to support Detroit’s recovery in a way that directly benefits our kids and expands their opportunities. We also want to ensure that youth can contribute to and lead Detroit’s comeback.  
  • How to further equip the community for civic leadership so that the knowledge and perspectives of Detroit residents and youth are included in conversations at the city, state and national level. 
  • How we might incorporate multi-generational approaches to our work in more meaningful ways going forward. 

engage with us

As we continue our year of reflection, we will continue to provide updates through our Rose for Detroit blog and Foundation newsletter

I encourage you to share your thoughts about how to positively impact the lives of Detroit kids by sharing them on twitter, facebook or Instagram, using #KidsMatterHere. Or, use the comment section here. We’d love to hear from you!


Positively impacting the lives of children in Detroit neighborhoods
Gifts For All God's Children, a 501c3 nonprofit has been working in inner city neighborhoods with churches since 1988. We now have a model that works extremely well. We assist inner city churches in reaching out to the children in their neighborhoods by doing outreach events for the families all year and providing for the needs of the children that come. We do family Valentine, and Easter parties along with summer camps, scholarships to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries Wildwood Ranch in Howell for a week and provide school supplies, uniforms and shoes. We have a One on One Tutoring program 2 days per week from 3:30-5:30pm during the school year plus a Connecting Kids to Christ (CKC) Center that operates every Sunday. This center has a puppet stage, big screen TV with the Superbook Series, computers and food each week. GFAGC also provides beautifully picked out Christmas gifts for each child that are donated from people in suburban churches, schools and businesses. The gifts are given out for the children to take home after a wonderful family Christmas party at the church. This model works because of the relationships that are formed with the families and the church in their neighborhood. East Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 3510 E. Outer Dr. In Detroit is our model and when we began assisting them in 2009 they had 0 children in their church and no outreach. Now last year over 375 children participated in programs there. We would love to meet with the Skillman Foundation to discuss using this model in other areas in Detroit. Our website is and my email is

Patti Jacques, Executive Director
8/19/2016 at 8:21 am

Collective impact approach
Gather all people, groups and resources that purport to help children & youth and decide on 1 overarching goal. Commit to the achievement of that goal no matter how long it take or how money is needed.

8/17/2016 at 11:36 am

Aim High Clubhouse
First and foremost I would like to say thank you for all the work that you do in the community it is such an inspiration Tonya Allen you are providing as inspiration everyday and it was an honor to meet you at the men of Courage award show earlier this year earlier this year I am so happy to announce that I have had a very successful year and if there's anything that I can do to speak to the children about my story losing my mother at a young age and overcoming or ideas for improving safety and education for our inner-city youth I would love to meet with you best regards Angel Marino

8/17/2016 at 11:33 am

Detroit's Youth
I love the work you are doing in the city for the next generation. I would love to help be a part of a DPS wide mentoring program. I started a girls travel club with eight young ladies from SW Detrout in 2010 and I'm so proud that all of the girls graduated high school in 2015. They are running in different directions with college, work and internships. They are finding ways to share their experiences with younger kids from their community. I would love to see at least 5% of Metro Detroit residents give 5 hours a month for a 5 year commitment to one child in the D. Companies could partner up with their employees and take on a school. I would envision a background check system, a short survey of what the passions are of the mentors so the kids could be matched up with someone who could share their interests with a kid that has the same interests. I think it would be a way to heal the racial tensions between the suburbs and the city. The kids would experience life outside of poverty and also be accountable to someone that cares for them. The mentors would look at these beautiful kids with differently. I'm willing to help create this program called 555. Let's do this!

Terri OBrien
8/15/2016 at 2:33 pm

the future of youth
our youth must see a future, an individual one that fits the individual youth. To do that we need places that reinforce communication, caring, customer service and developing skills and strengths from the individual starting point. They need to experience community and that community has to include strong women, strong men and caring individuals. I look forward to the Skillman next steps in this exciting process of engaging the engagers and engaging each youth to see a successful future where ambition and new experiences never stops.

Cynthia Smith
8/11/2016 at 4:12 pm