Being directly involved with a community-revitalization process from the ground floor is, for me, among the most rewarding aspects of our work at Metis Associates. We believe that active engagement of individuals and agencies in a participatory community assessment is the approach that generates the most salient and meaningful data. It is also the most effective way to ensure that the community will be interested in the results and motivated to work together to make needed changes.
In 2013, we worked with the Center for Family Services in Camden, New Jersey, to successfully obtain a federal Promise Neighborhoods planning grant on behalf of a broad-based community collaborative in the Cooper-Lanning neighborhood. As we discuss in our In Focus article, despite Camden’s profound and notorious challenges, the process of crafting the proposal and the subsequent participatory community-assessment process has generated a great deal of local energy in designing solutions to address the community’s significant needs.
For me, the process also drilled home the point that when we at Metis get to know our clients very deeply, our multidisciplinary staff can offer a rich set of supports, from strategic planning, program development, and technical assistance to information technology services that help retrieve substantial information for planning and evaluation purposes. As just one example, building on the data that we attained with partners in Camden, they were able to obtain funding from the state of New Jersey for a Promise Neighborhood Family Success Center, a community meeting space that connects families to parenting resources, housing assistance, and economic supports, among other services.
In addition to having diverse skill sets, our staff’s firsthand knowledge of the domains of community safety, public education, youth development, and housing means that we can help a community move from initial discussions of information-gathering strategies to interpretation of data and finally to the development of a dynamic and cross-sector transformation plan.
I’m proud of the work that Metis has carried out to assist communities like Parkside in Portland, Maine—led by The Opportunity Alliance—and Cooper Lanning in Camden—led by the Center for Family Services—to understand deeply their assets and challenges through a comprehensive assessment process. When residents and organizations participate in collecting data on their communities, they “own” the validity of results and the impetus to respond to them. Now, both neighborhoods have rich data sets to point the way toward community change. Both have strong “backbone” organizations that are doing a great job spearheading the community-revitalization effort as well as a high degree of community buy-in. We stand with them and are confident that change is possible.
– Stanley Schneider, President