A local organization’s perspective on why Communities of Opportunity is receiving national attention

(Reposted from BestStartsBlog.com)

In King County, many have taken note of Communities of Opportunity (COO), a ground-breaking partnership between community, the Seattle Foundation and King County to address inequities in health, social, racial, and economic outcomes. Now this approach is getting national attention.

This past weekend, US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro honored Communities of Opportunity. The Seattle Foundation received the Secretary’s Awards for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships in Washington D.C. at the Council of Foundations annual conference.

I sat down with Sili Savusa, Executive Director of the White Center Community Development Association to hear more about what she thinks is unique about the COO approach.

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How has COO differed from more traditional funding approaches?

It’s been really unique to see how resident voice connects with what happens in COO. Community members have been part of the decision making process—deciding how resources are allocated. The relational piece has been critical as we’ve sat around the table in deep conversation with Seattle Foundation, King County and community leaders.  We’ve had the opportunity to elevate the priorities specific to our communities.

Many who work in public health, human services and local foundations aspire to have authentic community engagement. What do you think is working to make that happen this time around?

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach. What’s good for White Center may not be good for Skyway. That’s the real test—that in the end, COO works neighborhood by neighborhood to ensure all communities continue to thrive.

Secondly, it’s understanding that achieving equity isn’t all neat and tidy. It takes time and patience and leadership from all sides. But by working side-by side, we can understand and learn with an equity lens. The approach to this kind of work is to build trust with each other and to increase accountability to community.

Finally, this has not been the typical way of doling out money. It’s been a thoughtful process with deliberate conversations about community impact. You ask for our leadership to do things differently, if you can do that, it can be very liberating for folks in the community.

What has this looked like for residents in White Center?

We’ve held a series of community summits and conducted a community survey. There’s power in collecting our own data on the needs of our families. Communities need to tell their own stories and own their own data. Otherwise, community will question where the data comes from.  It’s typically from sources that take a long time to collect and may not tell the story of the specific neighborhood issues in “real time”. Residents are then authentically engaged in being part of the solution.

What issues are surfacing through this community involvement?

Affordable housing, places to revitalize communities and supporting local businesses while maintaining diversity of a business district and community. We are learning what kind of resources are really relevant to family-owned businesses in places like White Center.

White Center Community Development Association is one of several grantees and community leaders involved in Communities of Opportunity. Additional funding for Communities of Opportunity is included in the Best Starts for Kids initiative approved by King County voters in November, 2015.