Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Slam Dunk for Browntown!

By Meredith Stuart 
Ten months ago, our team of six Public Allies was welcomed to the Browntown community to complete our Team Service Project.  We were to work with Browntown residents, neighborhood youth and local government officials to increase the capacity and sustainability of youth initiatives in the community.  Our team was lucky to have a group of truly invested community partners from the Browntown Civic Association, the City Council, neighborhood institutions, and of course the BCA Kidz Club - a junior civic association run by local teenagers to give the young people of the neighborhood something to do and a safe place to be.  
Browntown Kidz Club members
Early on, we conducted a focus group with Browntown’s young leaders to identify a project.  They decided that a neighborhood basketball league and cheerleading squad would have the widest appeal to their peers and offer the most potential for sustainability.  The Public Allies Team started to meet with the BCA Kidz Club twice monthly in order to improve their sustainability as a self-governing group and their succession planning to engage new members to replace members who age out of the group.  By leading these activities, we helped them to develop a mission statement, a case for support, position descriptions, internal and external communication strategies, and an increased comfort with networking and elevator pitches.  
The confidence of the young leaders with whom we have been working has grown substantially over these last ten months.  In February, members of the BCA Kidz Club who attended a Stakeholders’ Meeting for their Basketball League found it difficult to be heard by the new adults in the room and difficult to assert their ownership over the league.  By April and May, the same representative was participating confidently with adults in a meeting about developing support for the Kidz Club and youth activities in general.  The Kidz Club also began to present updates about its activities and answer impromptu questions from the monthly Civic Association meeting, usually attended by over 30 adult residents.  They were interviewed extensively for a Front Page feature in the News Journal and were able to clearly communicate their message.  
The Basketball League has significantly increased the community’s support for it’s young people.  Many residents volunteered their time and donated their money (over $1500 was donated to the league from individuals)  to make sure that the league was a success.  There has simply been an increase in momentum in more ways than one.
The Basketball League has engaged over 90 young people from Browntown, Hedgeville and beyond.  It is incredibly popular and its success is a testament to the need to focus on the assets of the community and the projects that the community itself identifies.  The Basketball League was conceived by the BCA Kidz Club and a group of dedicated residents of all ages with incredible social capital were able to make it happen.  In the short term, it has increased the reach of the BCA Kidz Club and young residents’ interest in their programs and activities.  
In the long term, our work with the Browntown community has inspired collaboration with Parkway Academy, the Hedgeville Civic Association and Girl’s Inc.  The foundation of these partnerships are built on a shared desire to support and grow youth initiatives in the area and we are optimistic that they will continue in the long term.  

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