Community Centers Key to New Effort to Engage Buchtel Residents in Neighborhood’s Future

The Akron Neighborhood Trust’s Program Receives Knight Foundation Support

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This video documents Knight Foundation's Community Breakfast on April 3, 2012 in Akron, Ohio. The guest speakers were Susan Vogelsang and Crystal Jones, Co-Managers of The Akron Neighborhood Trust. Along with four stakeholders, they spoke about the Ujima Project.

Akron, Ohio (July 14, 2011) — Residents of Buchtel will come together to make important decisions about the community’s future using a new engagement model that transforms the way residents approach, prioritize – and ultimately lead on – neighborhood issues.  The gatherings will take place at Akron Schools’ Community Learning Centers in the Buchtel cluster, helping to transform them into places where the community can engage and strengthen their neighborhoods.

The Akron Neighborhood Trust is heading the effort, supported with a $674,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“So many people have a heartfelt desire to do their part in making the new Community Learning Centers places of excellence for everyone.  Citizens are looking for opportunities to not only be served by, but also be of service to the centers,” said Crystal Jones, who co-manages The Akron Neighborhood Trust, with Susan Vogelsang. “We are excited about the opportunity for residents to come together, to decide what needs to be done and then act to achieve their vision.”

Employing the Deliberative Democracy model of community engagement, the program will begin by asking residents at six centers to identify their vision for their neighborhoods. Residents will be trained as mediators for the citizen-led discussion sessions, which hope to engage new voices alongside established leaders. Over the coming three years, residents will set priorities and design action plans for programming and services to be offered at the community learning centers. As a result, the centers will become spaces for collective discussion and action and provide services the community wants and needs.  The neighborhoods, meanwhile, will develop a network of resident leaders and community changemakers.

“Engaged communities are resilient communities,” said Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director for Knight Foundation, which promotes informed and engaged communities.  “To get there, we need innovative ways to ensure diversified talent and leadership in engaging neighborhoods. This program will help build trust among neighbors and develop leaders so that the residents’ participation and commitment can complete the cycle of engagement.”

"When we began the learning center project, we joined together as a community to find an innovative way to enrich our neighborhoods and inspire our students," said Akron Public Schools Superintendent David W. James. "I am proud and honored to see us take our vision even further by establishing supportive partnerships that engage, transform and strengthen our communities."

To prepare the program, the Trust has spent the past year meeting with grassroots groups and holding pilot trainings and discussions. During one gathering, residents were asked what they thought was most valuable about the session. 

“People said, ‘all opinions counted. There were no wrong ideas’ and ‘I felt like we began to develop relationships.’ Seeing the group and hearing their reactions gave us a window into the very real potential of this approach,” Thomas said.

About The Akron Neighborhood Trust

The Akron Neighborhood Trust is a community engagement consulting partnership. For more information, call Crystal L. Jones at 330-434-7988, or Susan Z. Vogelsang at 330.807.2555 or email info@akrontrust.org.

About John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.

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Contacts:

Marc Fest, Vice President/Communications, (305) 908-2677, fest@knightfoundation.org
Susan Z. Vogelsang, Co-manager of the Akron Neighborhood Trust (330) 807-2555

 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.