Senior Program Officer for A Strong Neighborhood
Focus, Observe, Document and Reflect
In 2016, I learned that there are many ways to measure the ‘strength’ of a neighborhood. The neighborhoods of Mt. Pleasant, Woodland Hills and Buckeye are similar to many other Cleveland neighborhoods that face city-wide and regional ills.
Our partner, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, uses a tool called the Progress Index to evaluate neighborhoods with measures such as median sale price of residential parcels, median income and poverty rate. Since 2011, the median sale price in Woodland Hills, Mt. Pleasant and Buckeye is showing an upward trend, which mirrors Cleveland as a whole. In Woodland Hills, the median price was $10,000 in 2011; in 2016,
it was $14,875. In Mt. Pleasant, it was $9,075 in 2011; in 2016, it was $14,837. In Buckeye/Shaker Square, it was $21,000 in 2011; in 2016, it was $35,000.
We are also seeing a negative trend line in household income and the poverty rate. In Woodland Hills, household incomes are down 12 percent, while the poverty rate has increased 24 percent. In Mt. Pleasant, household incomes are down 10 percent, while the poverty rate has increased 39 percent. And in Buckeye / Shaker Square, household incomes are down 5 percent, while the poverty rate has increased 22 percent.
In terms of population, we are seeing a downward trend. In Woodland Hills, population has decreased 24 percent. In Mt. Pleasant, it’s down 35 percent, and in Buckeye/Shaker Square, it’s down 26 percent, outpacing the city’s average decline of 18 percent.
While these numbers paint a picture, they don’t capture the complete story. Between and behind these stats we see something else—the work of our partners. For example, behind the housing numbers are a chain of efforts that include code enforcement, demolitions, home repair loans and rehabs led by partners such as Habitat for Humanity, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Harvard Community Services Center, Thriving Communities and the Hebrew Free Loan Association. We have come far, but we still have a long journey ahead of us.
In contrast, notions of place attachment, sense of community and social networks are difficult to measure but are important factors to a strong neighborhood. These are factors that make people want to move into or stay in a neighborhood. For example, how do you measure the energy of 100-plus residents at the monthly network night led by Neighborhood Connections? The laughter of children at a block party facilitated by LAND studio? The sense of safety the Shaker Square merchant feels when they see a police officer on a bike? Or the sense of hope residents feel after successfully launching an ioby campaign? We are using storytelling as a tool for learning through two podcasts – Watershed and Making Our Own Stories.
The goal of these efforts is simple: Help residents tell their own stories and show real life.
In closing, we learned to focus on what we can and should measure and to keep observing, documenting and reflecting on the things that we can’t.
Kathleen Dean, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Evaluation, Outcomes and Learning
The Partnership Puzzle
Reflecting on the last year has highlighted to me how vital partnerships are to the organizations and the work that is happening in our community. Whether the idea of partnerships is made explicit or implicit in their ideas, challenges, solutions and successes, our own partners know that the work is multifaceted and that connecting with others requires effort but is enriching and empowering. Partnership takes effort to build trust and relationships, and to know when pursuing it is the right tactical or strategic decision. In so many cases, organizations have identified a problem or issue that affects their clients, and they look for partners
to help them solve it. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle and has to work together to see the whole picture.
Partnerships enrich our work by increasing the diversity of stakeholders at the table, strengthening one another by bringing different perspectives and ideas to light. They empower us by increasing our reach
as an outlet to share work, stories and expertise with a broader audience. Rather than viewing others as
a threat or as competition, organizations see themselves and their partners as part of a broader system working on multiple fronts.
I’ve come to appreciate that these lessons are relevant for individuals as well as organizations. Recognizing opportunities to connect one’s own work with what others do well can provide a more enhanced and holistic approach to achieving our goals. Partners allow us to “borrow” expertise for practical, technical
or intellectual resources that can inform our work while allowing us to stay focused on our mission.
I see this at the Foundation daily, working with colleagues who are experts in their fields. For example, as we tackled a grant proposal revision, it took a great partnership with our grants manager for us to address the technical, logistical and learning needs that this process required. Revising a strategy dashboard each quarter also requires a true partnership with each program officer. From this, I learn what is most relevant to their portfolio at any given time and how they think about the strategy area, resulting in me sharing ideas about how best to evaluate and represent that information. In each of these cases, each individual brought skills and expertise to the table, and we relied on great working relationships to get us to our goal. Individually, none of us would have had all the pieces to the puzzle.
High-Performing Teams - More Than Just Performance
Last year, one of the organizational goals was to “strive to build a strong, high-performing team.” I have learned that building a high-performing team is so much more than performance (results, outcomes and goals). It involves building on many levels including relationships, trust, shared values, learning communication styles, etc. I used to think water cooler conversations were huge time wasters, but now I value them because they provide opportunities to talk to my colleagues about work or non-work related things that I don’t get an opportunity to do in meetings. Sometimes I like to stop by staff members’ offices to deliver or respond to messages instead of emailing, or just to simply say hello. When someone stops by my office to just say hello or vice versa, the gesture means a lot to them and me as well, especially with busy schedules. I make sure I give compliments or recognize when someone isn’t feeling well. I have also learned that it is important to learn my colleagues’ verbal and non-verbal communication styles. I believe relationship building should be inclusive of all the Foundation’s stakeholders (board and grantees), resulting in more than a strong high-performing team, but a strong high-performing organization.
Anne C. Goodman
President and CEO
Last fall I had the opportunity to participate in the Racial Equity Institute training coordinated by Cleveland Neighborhood Practice. This training offered an intensive historical look at systemic racism and its truly devastating and persistent impacts.
Race has been a prominent subject for our nation and our city of late. In Cleveland people who live in impoverished neighborhoods face incredible – and unfair – challenges with regard to quality of life, safety, good education and basic necessities. These persistent negative conditions basically predict poor outcomes. But solutions aren’t simple; we need a thoughtful and widespread discourse to develop shared understanding, empathy and a commitment to a better future.
I eagerly attended this two-day training. Walking into it, I felt like I was a pretty enlightened and progressive thinker. I had no idea what I didn’t know.
There is much we learned in school. But for me, the lens was not focused enough – or maybe properly focused – to allow me to appreciate the full impact race has had on history, and consequently, the present. For example, I knew about the massive housing development that occurred on Long Island following
World War II that was due in large measure to benefits that servicemen and women received from the GI
Bill. But I didn’t know that loans were so much harder to get for African Americans; that red-lining was the norm in those days; and that there was a town here in the U.S. that specifically forbid people of color from buying land.
There were literally dozens of historical facts that I didn’t know or hadn’t appreciated as they pertained to race. I felt dumb. And, I felt eager to go out and change the world. But, one of the most sobering learnings
I had was that we can’t just charge out and change the world. If we could, we would have by now. There is
so much to discuss, think about and structure dialogue around. There are immediate concerns about mass incarceration, poor education and poverty, but it is difficult to address them without fully understanding and appreciating the systemic reasons that led to those—the systemic issues that keep such inequities in place.
Combating racial inequities is a big challenge on many fronts, but it must include an appreciation of our history. I learned a lot about history. Our entire staff will participate in this training shortly, and I look forward to more discussion, brainstorming and a general improved common understanding of some of the problems that haunt us today.
The Importance of Interaction and Diving In
Having been in the “back office” of philanthropy for several years, I hadn’t fully appreciated, until recently,
the role philanthropy plays outside of traditional grantmaking. For instance, “convening” sounded like a nebulous buzzword that would be a nice thing to do, but I wasn’t clear on how impactful it could be. That changed when, back in July, I was fortunate enough to attend the “Resilience” movie screening at the City Club of Cleveland hosted by Christie Manning of our Resilient Families strategy. Saint Luke’s Foundation staff was seated at the same tables as grantees to gain a cross-section of reaction to this powerful and important film. I sat at a small but lively table with two grantee organizations. The enthusiasm with which they shared ideas – both large and small scale – was contagious. It seemed they were craving the opportunity to interact with one another to collaborate, but they don’t often have the occasion to intentionally engage with one another during the course of their busy days. By working together, it became clear that they could have greater impact on more people. It was gratifying to be a part of their exchange. Now I’m much more open and eager to dive into other areas, like policy and advocacy, that might help move the needle in ways other than direct distribution of funds.
Seeing More Clearly
Emotional Intelligence, also known as EI or EQ, is a term I had never heard of before taking an Organizational Behavior class at Cleveland State University. I’ve learned that the concept of EI is basically people skills —
something I most definitely possess, although I am a shy person. Over the years I have challenged that part of myself. Through the work I do at the Foundation and my interactions with and learning about grantees and their work, my EI has been enhanced, and I have become more aware of what others may be challenged with on a daily basis. As the song says, “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.” The clearness is there because of what I have learned from the work that our grantee partners are doing in the community. The rain in this case is me in my own little world at times. Through my own self-awareness and learning about the realities of life challenges that others face daily, I have realized that there is a bigger world than my own, and I have an exciting opportunity to play a role in making that bigger world better one person at a time.
Senior Program Officer for Resilient Families
Choose Your Words Carefully
I’ve long considered the words empower, empowering and empowerment to be positive, hopeful words,
but I’ve recently come to understand that these words connote something very different for others. In the past, these words spoke to me of the positive results that can come from someone discovering, developing and employing their own power. They also suggested to me that certain experiences and interactions with others can be the impetus for such positive self-discovery and growth.
I recently came to understand, however, that these words can imply that the ability to recognize and employ one’s own power is somehow reliant on that power being bestowed by another person. This interpretation gives me pause and makes me want to find alternative language relative to our Resilient Families strategy.
It runs counter to my belief that absolutely everyone has strengths and assets upon which to build, and we achieve the greatest good when we support others in recognizing their own strengths. A strengths-based approach helps parents and families identify their strengths and build upon them to make their families stronger and to achieve their goals. Working in true partnership with families is what is effective toward these ends, as opposed to in a relationship characterized by a power differential that I now understand to be implicit in the empowerment terminology.
So what to do now with this learning, this new insight into the vocabulary we employ to communicate our strategic intent for Resilient Families? I’m not sure yet, but I am sure that it’s important to pay attention to the subtle and evolving meanings beneath words we can take for granted. Perhaps that evolution of meaning is a benchmark to underscore where and how our understanding and strategic intent around complex issues become more sophisticated and supportive of more effective approaches.
Senior Program Officer for Healthy People
Little Things Play Big Roles
It’s the little things.
I’ve often worked with large organizations and dealt with many complicated, political, messy and complex systems. Understanding what works best in those environments can take time. Just when you think you are making headway, leadership can change or the external environment shifts. It’s dynamic and constant —
and I am only looking in from the outside.
I have learned that the little things – the small or discretionary grant dollars, incentives for staff, stipends for volunteers and opportunities to learn – can often unlock bigger things like successfully implementing a new program, advocating for policy change or landing a federal grant. The little things can also speak to what is equitable and required to succeed.
These little things are sometimes unpredictable. They don’t always fit neatly into someone’s job, hours in a day or an existing grant. They pop up like little threats or lights at the end of the tunnel. They are lessons learned or insights gained after the grant starts, but before outcomes are achieved. They are sometimes simply the cost of doing business. Last year, we at Saint Luke’s Foundation funded many little things, including the search for a new CEO, gym equipment and bicycles, university fellows, consultant time and several opportunities to plan or bridge to a new opportunity.
What I have learned is how important – really how critical – those little things are.
Helpers Give Hope
I have learned and am still learning that sometimes on the surface it may seem like very little is happening, but in actuality there are many partnerships “behind the scenes” that we know little about. Nonprofit organizations can be humble about all the good work they do, especially when they partner together.
When I feel particularly despondent about the wretched stories we encounter daily, I try to look beyond at these helpers and know that there are just as many (if not more) good stories that are not really talked about. They have taught me to have more hope.
Focus, Observe, Document and Reflect
Because I don’t always have the opportunity to participate in all of the program meetings, I really look forward to the updates that grant managers send to the other staff members. I like to receive pertinent articles about issues that the Foundation is working to address, and I especially like reading about people and health. Since Heather is the Healthy People Senior Program Officer, I’ve definitely gotten some valuable information from the articles she distributes.
Of the meetings that I have been able to sit in on, the annual staff meeting has increased my awareness of what issues various neighborhoods are facing and the plans to tackle those issues. I’ve also learned more about specific programs, such as Brock Party and Baby Shower, that help local youths and adults. Kathleen’s graph that tracks the organization’s progress is very useful to me, so I can get an overview of the impact we’re making in the community.
Through Christie’s meetings, I have a more in-depth knowledge of community issues pertaining to homelessness, senior citizens and those with convictions who are re-entering society. I’m especially sympathetic to the seniors that Saint Luke’s Foundation assists because I understand the issues that they face. Simply working at the Foundation makes me feel like I’m indirectly helping this part of the population.
Lastly, thanks to Nelson, I’ve had the opportunity to help him out with some of the programs that he works on including the artist search, and he keeps me in the loop with other projects he oversees.