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New relationships for building success: communities and families.

"We've all seen the piles of reports documenting how America's families and communities are falling apart. We've heard the urgent calls for a resurgence in family values. We've seen huge sums allocated for programs that seem to be barely treading water," comments Lottie Shackelford, former city director of Little Rock, Ark.

Local government officials are in a position to improve the lives of families and must tackle this challenge to ensure a bright future for their communities.

To undertake this job, local government must answer two corresponding questions: Why are families important to the future of our nation's communities? How can communities and neighborhoods nurturew families and vice versa?

Families provide a sense of continuity and stability that is reflected in the community. Families are also better qualified to teach the importance of education and hard work than any other institution in American life.

"Our children and families are the barometers that measure the strength of our communities," says Gloria Rodriguez. Rodriquez, president and chief executive officer of the San Antonio-based family support program, Avance, was a speaker at the 1992 Congress of Cities.

Local government efforts to support our nation's families are vital to the success of communities. Whether this is accomplished through collaborative public/private sector partnerships or by municipal programs, local leaders must take risks to provide for their families and communities.

Minneapolis, under the leadership of NLC President and Mayor Don Fraser, is initiating the "Parent's Place." This neighborhood based approach allows parents to connect to the services they need. Each facility provides information about housing, transportation or family care, among other services. Several other innovative strategies strengthen families and the communities in which they live are being implemented across the country:


One highly successful effort, "Community Building in Partnership," is being undertaken by Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the Baltimore-based Enterprise Foundation. The program is unique, targeting its resources on the "high-risk" Sandtown-Winchester area of Baltimore.

A proposed set of strategies and programs addressing interrelated issues such as family development, health care, education, substance abuse, and economic development are being used to transform living conditions in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

Community involvement is an integral part of the Sandtown-Winchester Winchester revitalization; long-time residents serve as community advocates responsible for a specific issue such as creating substance-abuse education programs or improving sanitation services.

The project has already shown visible signs of success, including construction of 227 new townhouses, and the establishment several new programs for the neighborhood's youth and elderly populations. By empowering the community and approaching the community's problems comprehensively, "Community Building in Partnership" seeks to improve the lives of Sandtown-Winchester families and the future of the neighborhood.

Olympia, Wash.

Another program, in Olympia, Wash. (pop.36,000) has been supporting its families through the city's Department of Recreation.

To combat its youth problems, the city offers midnight basketball programs, musical concerts and video presentations to its youth and families. These projects are aimed at improving the lives of families, helping to sustain healthy communities, and ensuring an environment in which its citizens will thrive.

Cleveland, Ohio

Another effort, the Cleveland-based National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Development, Inc. assists young, unwed fathers in developing parenting skills. Charles Ballard, founder of the program, comments, "Becoming responsible for your children makes it much easier to behave responsibly in other ways. It changes everything."

Steps You Can Take And what steps should you and your community take next to address the needs of families? NLC's 1992 Futures Report, "Families & Communities," offers these suggestions, among others:

* measure the community's pulse on the issue of families;

* cultivate workplaces that are in tune with families;

* construct a human services or children's budget;

* seek greater flexibility in federal categorical funding;

* review city regulations and licensing for the impact on families;

* inventory all city owned buildings and property that could potentially be used for children and family services; and

* provide ample opportunities for individuals and families to participate in community efforts.
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Author:Finegold, Allyn F.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 9, 1993
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