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Detroit residents leading change in neighborhoods

Behind every thriving neighborhood are strong local leaders.

When the Skillman Foundation set out to on its Good Neighborhoods Initiative to improve conditions for children living in six Detroit neighborhoods – Brightmoor, Chadsey Condon, Cody Rouge, North End, Osborn and Southwest Detroit – one critical step taken was to launch Community Connections, a resident-centered grant program working to strengthen civic engagement and grassroots leadership. The program awards grants of $500 to $5,000 to local projects that mobilize residents to improve opportunities and conditions for youth.

Importantly, the funding decisions are made by a panel of neighborhood residents, putting resources and decision making in the hands of people who understand the community from lived experience. This panel is in itself a learning and leadership group, whose capacity to support and strengthen civic engagement and activism has grown over time.

Community Connections connects to and elevates residents at every point in the work. For example, a father whose children attend a Community Connections program described how staff provided him with a paid gig to DJ at a program event. This led to subsequent gigs, and he was also asked to speak to kids in the community about his own life lessons. “After all they did for my children, they put me on a platform I never thought I’d be on,” he said. The father became active in the neighborhood as a youth football coach and a chaperone at high school events.

The Foundation, through the expertise of the Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, has taken a deep look at Community Connections’ accomplishments over the past decade.

Highlights include:

  • Since its inception in 2006 through June of 2015, Community Connections awarded 815 grants, totaling nearly $2.8 million to 481 different groups.
  • Hundreds of neighborhood residents engaging in community and building their leadership skills: More than 750 adults involved; 220 in leadership roles.
  • Providing positive youth development experiences to more than 2,700 youth each year.
  • Community Connections groups and leaders are highly networked and collaborative. Almost all grant recipients (92 percent) report mobilizing project contributions from at least one other funder.
  • Nearly ¾ of Community Connections project leaders are active learners, getting guidance from one or more sources to plan or do their project.
  • Some Community Connections leaders are involved in policy change: About one in four projects said they had connected or interacted with local policymakers.

For more information about Community Connection grants, visit www.communityconnectionsdetroit.org.

This report is part of KIDS MATTER HERE: An Analytic Review of the 10-year Good Neighborhoods Initiative.

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