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Friday, April 14, 2006

Community Development 101--Part Two


When you begin to take the power of people--all people--seriously, it is a short step then to reevaluating how you regard your various resources, relationships and opportunities.

Taking people and their power seriously led us to value highly the benefits of open-handed. . .

Partnerships.

Over the past twleve years, we have learned the benefit of remaining open to working wtih almost anyone who demonstrates a commitment to improving life in the city. At the same time, we have learned that strong partnerships depend on our being willing to hold all our resources loosely so that, when necessary, we can release them for the good of our friends and partners.

Several years ago I heard Lizabeth Shore speak here in Dallas. In one of her speeches she clearly distringuished between collaboration and partnership.

According to her, collaboration is when a group of people agree to meet on a regular basis, say once each month, to discuss some community issue or concern. They spread out their agendas and their notebooks. They meet for longer than they really should. Then, they pick up everything they brought to the meeting, agree to meet again at some appointed date in the future and they leave.

In between meetings nothing changes.

By contrast, a partnership is when people come together, recognize a common concern or issue, make clear commitments as to how to see things improve and when the meeting is over everyone leaves something of real and meaningful value on the table for the benefit of the of entire group and its agreed upon mission. Everyone contributes, surrenders something.

Partnerships change the world.

Over the years here at CDM, we have enjoyed some amazing partnerships.

From our beginnings in 1988, we have teamed up with the North Texas Food Bank in the distribution of millions of pounds of food products to low-income families in need of assistance. Without the food bank our organization would not be what it is today.

Our Community Health Services division would not be what it is today without our deep partnership with the folks at the Baylor Health Care System and the physicians at Health Texas Provider Network.

Dr. Jim Walton, Chief Health Equity Officer (don't you love that job title?) for the entire Baylor system, has played a remarkable role in our partnership to improve community health and wellness in several inner city neighborhoods, with more plans for expansion on the drawing boards.

Five years ago we formed a partnership with the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas Academy of Medicine, Heatlh Texas Provider Network, the Baylor Health Care System, the Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the U. S. Health Resources and Services Administration to bring Project Access (PAD) to Dallas. PAD involves several hundred doctors and almost 20 hospitals in the creation of what has become one of the most effective referral networks in the nation for delivering high-quality medical services to the uninsured, working poor. Complicated, demanding, challenging and exciting, PAD has been worth the effort. Wonderful friendships and the work of healing have resulted all across our city.

Since 1996, we have enjoyed a fast partnership with the Dallas Housing Authority. The result has been a wide variety of community improvements and opportunties for low-income, inner city residents. After-school activities, technology education and employment training, legal services, community-based health and wellness initiatives, emergency services to families in crisis, college preperatory activities, summer employment for teens, and affordable housing and econonomic development--all has emerged from our close working relationship with DHA. Ann Lott, DHA's CEO has been one of our most committed partners.

When we expanded our community development efforts to San Antonio, the partnership process kicked in there as well. Our first and most important partner in that new city for us was the San Antonio Housing Authority.

More recently we have been engaged with the City of Dallas as we worked out details of our downtown workforece housing re-development plans. Our City Council have been extremely helpful to us in a number of ways. Hopefully, they feel the same about us!

For years we have worked very closely with the Dallas County Commissioners Court and our County Judges--first Lee Jackson and more recently Margaret Keliher. We are currently working with Judge Keliher on a very creative housing development plan.

Maybe it would help reveal the scale of our partnership roadmap by simply listing a few of the various groups with whom we have worked over the past several years:

  • U. S. Attorney's Office
  • U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Dallas Country WorkForce
  • A number of banks and other financial institutions
  • Fannie Mae
  • Corporation for Supportive Housing
  • Partnership for the Common Good
  • National Association of Public Interest Law
  • Various local, state and national foundations
  • Numerous local and national corporations
  • Dallas County Department of Health Texas
  • U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Texas Department of Health and Human Services
  • Parkland Health and Hospital System
  • Dallas Police Department
  • U. S. Department of Justice
  • Governor's Office of Juvenile Justice
  • Legal Services of Northwest Texas
  • The Real Estate Council
  • United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
  • Dallas Area Interfaith
  • The Urban League
  • Neighborhood groups
  • Universitites (including the Dallas County Community College District, University of Texas at Dallas and Arlington, Texas Tech University, Abilene Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology, the University of North Texas, Baylor University and many others that have sent student groups our way across the years!)
  • Churches
  • Public schools and their leaders
  • Professional groups
  • Civic organizations
  • Law firms
  • Our various courts and judges

The list could go on and on and is almost without limit as I think about it here. I know I have left some important partners off my list--please forgive me, but I can't keep up with it anymore!

We also have learned the benefits of helping other non-profits in whatever way we can.

Our LAW Center has become expert at assisting groups obtain their non-profit incorporation.
On more than one occasion our decision to assist another non-profit or some other partnership or quasi-organization has eventually led to our own dramitc expansion.

Then, it is important to remember that little things matter.

We return every phone call.

We thank every donor--be the donation time, funds or advice. The amount doesn't matter. A $1 gift receives the same response note as a $10,000 gift.

As hard as it is to believe on some occasions, we believe there are no wasted meetings.

We try hard to listen to everyone.

We watch our community because we know the people closest to the streets and neighborhoods know best. We "go to school" on our low-income friends every day.

Holding resources loosely and allowing them to flow through our hands for the benefit of the larger community is a strategy and a tactical decision that almost always correct, even when it seems counter-intuiative.

On a small bulletin board in my office I have posted a magazine advertisement I tore out years ago.

The ad is a photograph of a man standing on a city street in an expensive navy blue suit. His shirt is smartly starched and pressed. His briefcase in hand.

He holds up a large sign.

The message printed neatly in bold red letters across the face of the sign reads, "Collaborate or DIE."

By that I know this wise man means "Find serious partners who will join you or you won't be long for this world!"

Nothing could be truer in the city, especially if your mission is community development.