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Community Plan Returns to its Roots

Stacy Hanna
The Battle Creek Enquirer

(Originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on July 24, 2005 and used with permission. The opinions expressed by the Battle Creek Enquirer, visiting Expert in Resident, or the host organization do not necessarily represent those of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.)

A plan that began with Neighborhoods Inc. of Battle Creek is back in the hands of its creator.

One of W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s recently selected Yes we can! partners, Neighborhoods Inc. was awarded a one-year planning grant for $254,100. The money is to be used to revitalize its resident development and community organizing program that fell by the wayside in 2002, when the organization had to cut its budget.

Yes we can! neighborhood “connectors” took over that work during the initiative’s first phase, but now the program has shifted back to the community and individual organizations in phase two.

The grant to Neighborhoods Inc. is one of seven — totaling more than $3 million — awarded in June by the foundation in its effort to move the Yes we can! focus from seven Battle Creek neighborhoods into the entire community. Yes we can!’s goal is to reduce economic and racial inequities in Battle Creek.

Educating and empowering Battle Creek residents to improve low-income neighborhoods is key to advancing the Yes we can! initiative, according to foundation officials.

“Since its beginning, Yes we can! has strongly emphasized the role of residents in shaping Battle Creek’s future,” said Jim McHale, the foundation’s assistant vice president in charge of local programming.

Neighborhoods Inc.’s new director, Alan Saunders, believes his organization can be a major player in that effort.

“We plan to devise a program in which we can build leadership capacity for individuals in the neighborhoods as well as organizations in the neighborhoods,” Saunders said. “People who want to be able to control the destiny of their communities.”

Neighborhoods Inc.’s new project — Community Organizing and Resident Development (CORD) — will replace its defunct Community Builders program. The old program, which aimed to identify and grow local leaders, has been dormant for more than a year, according to the grant proposal.

Chris Lussier, a former Yes we can! neighborhood connector, is acting as a Neighborhoods Inc. consultant to help develop and implement the CORD project. He said that the organization plans to work with the community on several levels — from individual families to citywide projects.

“The Yes we can! initiative is resident-driven, so that component of working with leaders continues,” he said. “But in several different capacities.”

Among those, he explained, would be increasing and diversifying use of the already-established Community Houses in Washington Heights, Post Addition and McKinley neighborhoods.

“The Community Houses are really a gateway to building resident capacity in the neighborhoods,” he said, adding that the facilities are currently under-used. “They’ve shown they can have a positive impact on the areas they serve by allowing programs and services to be delivered directly into the neighborhoods. We’re going to build on that.”

Neighborhoods Inc. currently employs eight people, down 24 from three years ago. About 75 percent of the grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will pay for two more full-time staff members and various consultants. The remainder of the money will be used for programming and evaluation costs, according to Saunders.

Although he’s new to the organization, Saunders said he was aware of Neighborhoods Inc.’s recent financial difficulties, and acknowledged a deficit in the operating budget for the past several years.

“We’re operating at a positive cash flow at this point,” he said. “I know that Neighborhoods has experienced some tough times in the past, but we’re starting to come out of that now.”

Saunders also said that although Neighborhoods Inc. receives financial support for operation from several local agencies — including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the city of Battle Creek, each contributing $200,000 in 2005 — the Yes we can! money will not be used for those purposes.

“This particular grant is for a completely new program,” he said. “A good portion of the funding is going to new staff and new programs. None of it is for continued operations or past projects.”

Money breakdown

Neighborhoods Inc. of Battle Creek recently was awarded $254,100 in Yes we can! funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The money will be used for the following:

•  Staff salary and benefits: $184,600
•  Organizational assessment: $5,000
•  Community housing programming: $15,000
•  Neighborhood activities: $5,000
•  Communications: $12,500
•  Community Builders classes: $7,500
•  Community Builders alumni activities: $2,500
•  Training/site visits: $12,000
•  Evaluation: $10,000
•  Total: $254,100

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