Often, people look at our organizational chart ask me questions like, "Why do you have such rich staff resources assigned to places serving relatively few people compared to some other parts of your organization?"
And, it is true.
Take our children's education efforts among the folks who live at Turner Courts in far South Dallas. We serve fewer than 30 children in our "little" After School Academy. One obvious reason for this is that we just don't have room for any more children, at least not yet. But, we are staff rich, if you are looking only at the number of students involved.
What most people overlook is how it is we are working with these 30 children.
For one thing, activities offered by the After School Academy are experientially rich and varied--photography, ballet, chess, golf, art, field trips, to name a few of the activities our children are exposed to.
And, our efforts at Turner Courts are not just about the after-school hours or the programs offered to the children.
Dr. Janet Morrison and her dedicated team work with parents, grandparents, facility staff members, Dallas Housing Authority professionals, community leaders and other residents who don't even have children signed up for our after-school activities. So, we are doing much, much more in the community than the after-school efforts.
At this point, I feel a need to draw an important philosophical contrast.
If our only concern is to manage programs involving large numbers of people, then our efficiencies could be expected to increase, along with program scale. In addition, our staff-to-participant ratios could improve, from a cost-benefit perspective, and people would stop asking us questions!
Of course, if scale was our most important consideration, we would never work in a community like Turner Courts. The physical space limitations alone would cause us to rule out this neighborhood if the number of children involved was are chief concern.
But, if our real desire is to play a part--never the only, nor the most important part--in community renewal, our resource mix in a community like Turner Courts always will be rich and complex. In addition, measuring outcomes in such neighborhoods will be more of a challenge.
Further, it is important to distinguish between "regional" service efforts and localized, neighborhood efforts. Both approaches are valid and necessary. But, our role in each is very different.
For example, our Community Resource Center or Nurture, Knowledge and Nutrition, our summer lunch and reading program, are examples of initiatives designed to serve individuals, families and partner organizations across several counties. Obviously, our After School Academy is all about one neighborhood and one group of children.
There is a real difference in the two approaches. It is hard for outsiders or for those who've never been embedded in a community to really understand. In either case, I want to see us come down on the side of improving community vitality every time. Both approaches are valid and needed in Dallas.
Talk to Janet. She will gladly tell you about the progress of "her kids" who attend the After School Academy. She may even mention the fact that last semester 23 students who had come through her program in the past were enrolled in college.
But, listen longer and you'll hear her talking about parents who are more engaged and committed to their children's education, parents who are enrolling in college themselves, parents who have gone back to work. She may even talk about neighborhood safety, crime statistics and nutrition education. The stories go way beyond our after-school activities and the children who eagerly attend.
It always works this way when we find ourselves involved in community building partnerships.
Some of our approaches involve hundreds of people and families. Others focus on relatively small groups. As long as we remain true to our values and our operating philosophy, both are needed, very different and always valid.
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