Friday, October 19, 2012

CitySquare: Growing Deeper in Public Policy & Advocacy

I'm extremely proud to be working at CitySquare. When I started working here in 2004, we the budget was not quite $4 million ($3.7 million to be exact) and we had about 55-60 employees. We now have a budget of nearly $15 million and 125 employees!

We are growing deeper and not just wider. We've eliminated some cherished programs that were just to hard to fund. We have increased capacity in programs that are effective in serving the community, but which also enhance the effectiveness of our existing program offerings. Our Neighborhood Support Services (formerly Social Work Services), ably led by Lisa Ciminelli, not only helps people connect with our other programs, but they provide case management support across nearly the entire organization.

And our work in Public Policy is growing. Last year we began offering theater screenings of documentaries which help raise public awareness about issues related to our organizations work or which serve as instruments to build a constituency for our advocacy and direct action initiatives. A couple of years ago, we added an additional Urban Engagement Book Club on the third Thursday of each month, held at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas (we meet at the Highland Park United Methodist Church, adjacent to the Southern Methodist University campus, on the first Thursday of the month).

We have had victories in getting state legislation passed to increase the compensation of the wrongfully incarcerated and to regulate payday and auto title lending. We've gotten local ordinances passed to regulate that industry and those ordinances have been adopted by the cities of Austin and San Antonio. We've gotten the Dallas Farmers Market to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or 'food stamps') as payment. We have an assessment of hunger in Dallas underway and, at the same time we have worked to register and will work to get out the vote in low income neighborhoods throughout Dallas. The construction of our new Opportunity Center, has us in the thick of addressing major economic redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization in South Dallas.

I'm not doing this by myself. A young lady named Jessica Davila, was my Public Policy Coordinator. She was a brilliant young woman, whose attention to detail kept me on track (no small feat), and who became an admired leader in her own right in the process.

Jessica left for work in education that allowed her more time with her family.

Keilah (KEE-I-lah) Jacques (Jock), now serves in that role and she is AMAZING! She brings gifts and talents to the position which allows us to tap into colleges and universities for additional support and supervises the interns who work in public policy. She organizes the book club and screening events and helps me keep track of our work with a dizzily diverse array of allies who increase our effectiveness.

And now we dig even deeper in Public Policy with the addition of Dr. Janet Morrison to our staff. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Janet was the Program Director of our After School Academy (and actually all things that had to do with education and programming for youth and children). We ended that program last year, and she now works with me as Education Policy Coordinator. Janet's job will be to enable us to address policy issues in public education and build relationships with schools - particularly in South Dallas - in order to help us learn how to organize and advocate to remove systemic barriers to student achievement.

Like Keilah, Janet is an incredibly smart woman who brings to our work a passion and creativity that will help CitySquare realize it's mission to work with our neighbors to change the trajectory of their lives.

In Janet's blog 'Janet Morrison's Community Dialogue', you can get a glimpse of her passion and perspective. Here's an excerpt from a recent post:

"The other night I was invited to attend an Allen High School choir concert. I went to support the teenager who asked me. I've known him since he was three and was interested in seeing him in his musical element that he has decided is his focus of study.

He had told me the performance was at the PAC at the high school. Ok. No problem. Every high school I've ever been to has an auditorium so I'll just go there and get directed to the PAC auditorium, I assumed. I "turned left" as Rosie (my GPS system) told me to but instead of being in front of the school I was on a street with multiple buildings."

"The new, $60 million stadium was on my left. I saw a building on my right and thought maybe that was it. As I pulled up to the building I could see through the windows and saw people with swimsuits. Obviously, not the right place. I pulled away and saw the sign, "Don Rodenbaugh Natatorium." I kept driving. Several lit-up tennis courts were on my right. I kept driving and started thinking, Good grief this is a college campus, not a high school! I saw the high school on the right, heard cheering from a smaller football field ahead of me, and finally noticed a sign, "Performing Arts Center." Oh. Wow. It's it's own building."

"When I walked in, 10 students were on stage. One kid was introducing the band members and the students on stage. He projected his voice. He was confident. He spoke to the audience of about 1000 people with as much ease as if there was no one in the room. He asked the other students to introduce themselves and they all oozed with confidence just like he did. The auditorium was full. Parents and students were clapping and cheering and encouraging the students in a way that would make anyone feel good."

"I nearly teared up..."

Find out what made her so emotional here.

Support the work of CitySquare, we're making  a difference in Dallas and I don't want you to miss the opportunity to be a part of it!

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