The Skillman Foundation annual report features a story on its investment in the Vista Partnership, a resident-driven community development initiative in a 20-block area of southwest Detroit.
Diana Lara wants her 4-year-old son Cruz to grow up in a neighborhood where there is community unity, where there are many things for young people to do for fun, and where kids can walk their streets safely.
And she believes her Southwest Detroit neighborhood is headed in that direction, thanks in part to the community planning process of the VISTA Partnership.
The VISTA Partnership is a 20-block area in Southwest Detroit. The nonprofit Southwest Solutions is working with neighborhood leaders and residents to redevelop the site. With a $302,000 grant, Southwest Solutions began an intensive community engagement process to find out what the community wants to do with the space. Additional Foundation support for the project came in the form of social innovation tools like PRIs. PRI stands for Program-Related Investment, which include financial tools such as low-interest loans, equity investments, and loan guarantees. In this case, the Foundation guaranteed a $60,000 interest reserve on a $1-million line of credit provided by IFF.
The Foundation began using PRIs in 2013 and to date has made $825,000 in funding through these tools. “These tools allow the Foundation to invest in projects that we otherwise wouldn’t with traditional grants,” said Vice President of Social Innovation Chris Uhl.
One of the first investments was with the VISTA Partnership, which began work in 2013 with community engagement. In April 2014, Resident Engagement Coordinator Mayte Penman was hired to train and prepare a survey outreach team. Resident voice — especially youth voice — is key to the project. “Dozens of youth from the three local high schools completed the survey,” said Director Dan Pederson. “Also, five youth were part of the survey team and were trained in community outreach, survey data collection, and team building.”
In Fall 2014, the Partnership team completed the community surveying process that captured the input of more than 700 people in the neighborhood and surrounding area. The survey itself was codesigned with youth input. Lara was one young outreach coordinator who helped make the survey a tool that would solicit the most critical feedback.
“It really hit home for me when they asked for our input for the survey questions,” said Lara. “They were asking us, ‘Do you think this is good enough to go out to the community?’ And they took our opinions, and they went with it. They did the changes we asked for. They really do want to hear from us.” Of those surveyed, 51 percent were Hispanic or Latino, 17 percent each were African-American or white, and 3 percent were other races or multiracial. Of those, 49 percent said that the neighborhood does not have enough goods and services, and 66 percent report leaving the neighborhood to see movies or do other family-friendly activities.
So it isn’t a big surprise to see that 69 percent said they want more recreation areas in the neighborhood, and 63 percent want more green spaces and parks.
The results of the survey were shared at a community meeting, at which more than 100 residents attended. Over the next several years, the community engagement team will continue to find ways to hear from residents. The results will continue to direct Southwest Solutions’ efforts to execute the plan and redevelop properties so the neighborhood is more viable and meets the needs of the community.
Already, Lara is dreaming about what it will be like when it is finished — construction should begin in 2015.
“I hope it brings in more revenue and more employment for citizens of Southwest Detroit and for the younger kids and teenagers who are not doing anything,” Lara said. “I hope it brings in movie theatres, and other places teens can go and work. Instead of socializing with a bad crowd. I hope it rejuvenates the community.”