Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Harlem Children's Zone Conference

This week, Bill Curry (Breakthrough's COO) and I traveled to NYC to attend a conference put on by the Harlem Children's Zone. The HCZ came to our attention during Obama's campaign when he heralded it as an example of how organizations should be approaching community transformation. Basically they have created a pipeline of best practice programs that follow children from before birth through college. They start with what they call Baby College, a program for expectant parents, through Harlem Gems, their early childhood education program and into Promise Academy, their school. Their goal is to make sure all of their students go on to college. They hire one staff member for every 20 students they help place in college to ensure that the students make it through college to graduation.

The idea is to discover what works and bring it to scale. Obama wants to locate 20 organizations that will replicate the HCZ approach in what he has called "Promise Neighborhoods" throughout the country. Their approach is strikingly similar to what we are trying to do at Breakthrough. We went to the conference because we want to learn from what they are doing.

Key takeaways for me were the emphasis on measuring impact, the high expectations they place on their staff, and the combination of passion and excellence that marks everything they do. The people in our community deserve our best and I came back with more resolve than ever to continue to grow Breakthrough in excellence and bring it to scale until it becomes the norm in our community for children to go to college and return to the community.

I think Breakthrough has an important contribution to the Promise Neighborhood conversation in that on top of creating this pipeline, which Breakthrough is already doing on a micro level through our preschool and after school programs, we have introduced a model for relationships. I think this is missing at the HCZ or it is happening informally. Here is a link to the Breakthrough video in which Bill Curry discusses the Network Model. Beyond building skills, Breakthrough connects people to opportunity through the creation of intentional supportive relationships that link people to schools, jobs and other opportunities.

1,400 people attended the conference which was sold out with a waiting list of 400, many of whom came anyway and joined in without registering. It was inspiring to be around so many bright people who are passionate about finding solutions to the demise of impoverished urban communities. I returned with a renewed sense of urgency to do all that I can to impact our community.

1 comment:

Simon said...

The HCZ has had some very positive coverage in the UK media as a radical approach to working with young people. I immediately thought of its potential for being rolled out in neighbourhoods like yours in Chicago, but your 'distinctive' on the relationships aspect is very important. Would be interested to see if anyone was willing to get Promise Neighbourhoods going in the UK's cities - it costs so much, and there's little appetite for spending such sums right now, and very unlikely to be under a new government next year.