Monday, February 21, 2011

CityWalk, Director of Community Life

I used to wonder what I could possibly do if I weren't running after-school programs. I have done it for so long, I've never been quite sure what other skills I might have. With my new job responsibilities, my opportunity has come to test out the knowledge I've gained over the years of working in Jubilee Park, Turner Courts, and Roseland Homes.

After it was understood that the education department would soon be ending, I was presented with the opportunity to become the Director of Community Life at our CityWalk@Akard initiative in downtown Dallas. Though I was still grieving the idea of losing what I loved (the education programs), I tried to wrap my head around this new opportunity.

It wasn't until I got my feet wet and started working at Akard this past week that the realization and acceptance set in of just how exciting my new job will be.

Some research might be in order...and if you'd like to understand more about CityWalk, you can read some of Larry James' blog posts on CityWalk HERE. (you may want to start from the bottom and read up so you'll understand the whole initiative).

CityWalk is made up of a variety of people...all who have to qualify based on income. CityWalk takes a Housing First approach. The objective is to work with people on setting and achieving goals. I am excited about that, but I also see it more as an opportunity to engage the entire community in an endeavor to become an ideal community...a community where formerly homeless, mentally ill, single parents, married couples, college students, children, White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian, can not only live together, but begin to engage each other in conversation, watch out for each other when arriving home from work late at night, providing good role models to other peoples' children, and all-in-all creating an amazingly healthy community.

My job will challenge me to combine everything I know about education, social work, and health disparities and utilize my experiences with each.  The job does not come without it's challenges. Think of a horizontal community much like where you may live and put everyone together in a vertical building in much smaller apartments with very close proximity to their neighbors. This can be challenging with even the most problem-free situations.

So, along with learning the technical aspects of what I will be doing, my week has been full of highlights.

  • After meeting Mr. Simpson and Mr. Solis, I could swear they are shadowing my every move as I see them walk through the halls and go from floor to floor chatting with people and moving about the high rise, always with a smile and a greeting.
  • While standing at the elevators, a very tall (about 6'5") young man walked off the elevator immediately out-stretching his arms and coming directly toward me with a very excited greeting a a huge smile. It was Jazz, one of my "kids" from our University of Values summer program about four years ago.
  • A Sunday afternoon art class for kids where three girls sat completely engaged in creating abstract art...and then listening to two of the girls (5th and 6th grade) have a conversation about their favorite artists, how the Eiffel Tower was built, their love of going to the Dallas Museum of Art, their knowledge about positive and negative space, and their general love of the art and music.
  • Meeting Ms. Carey, who is very interested in having an arts/crafts room and classes for adults and who also wants the Rainbow Days classes for her three year old.
  • Attending a Friday evening Crime Watch meeting with about 20-30 residents who engaged in the conversation and seemed very interested in creating a safer vertical community. 

I have much more to learn. This is all new to me. I am currently reading about Atul Gawande's approach, looking into the Common Ground initiative in New York, looking at YWCA's financial literacy classes, and thinking about a new "neighboring" concept that will put all of our volunteers and residents in horizontal relationships that are full of reciprocity. Stay tuned for more information and updates!
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