Social Connectedness / 2013

BelongLA — Engaging Angelenos to connect share and transform their neighborhoods and lives

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Children's Bureau of Southern California

How do you belong? Belonging is the deepest sense of being socially connected and research shows that belonging can lead to Community Well-Being. We are sparking a community movement to belong and much more. Through the collective effort of organizations and people working together, we will change the destiny for all children, families and their neighborhoods, particularly the most vulnerable ones. We are creating a “Belong” model/framework that can be replicated by other diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles and beyond using their unique assets!

What if all of us belong and we work to create communities where we would want to belong? We want to belong to neighborhoods where kids are healthy and educationally successful. We want to belong to neighborhoods where parents can be nurturing parents and economically secure and where the institutions/organizations in a community work to nurture success and belongingness.

Could this concept of Belong become a Community Movement? Could this happen by strengthening one’s ties to their neighbors? Could we nurture this by supporting a cadre of volunteer community ambassadors? These ambassadors will be champions for belonging, champions for kids and families to succeed. Ambassadors will connect people to people, to community groups, to important information, and to critical resources. What if a community ambassador on every block eventually grew into EVERYONE on the block feeling like they belong and contributing to the health and well being of everyone who lives near them? And, what if the organizations and institutions in a community learn how to nurture this?

We are starting this movement in 500 blocks in metropolitan Los Angeles where children and parents are struggling to overcome the many challenges of isolation and generational poverty. We are engaging a diverse network of over 75 organizations of all types to create a community where people want to belong. These public and private partners have a shared vision that the 35,000 children living in the neighborhoods within a 500 block catchment area will break all records of success in their education, health, and the quality of nurturing care and economic stability they receive from their families and community. Our ultimate dream is to not only transform these 500 blocks, but to also develop a scalable and replicable framework that other communities can use to achieve a population level change.

The Belong movement has started with 25 Community Ambassadors who are volunteering their time to increase and improve social connections in their neighborhoods. We are training the ambassadors, and our organizational partners, to incorporate and promote the protective factors in their efforts. Protective Factors such as social connections, concrete support in times of need, and personal resilience have been shown to lead to stronger families and communities.

With an LA2050 grant, our Belong movement plans to recruit a Community Ambassador for every block in the catchment area. We will employ 3 Initiative Representatives and a Belong Campaign Manager to increase social connections leading to an overall improvement in community well-being. The representatives will engage community groups, recruit and support Community Ambassadors, and facilitate a series of weekly discussion sessions offered in multiple settings throughout the 500 blocks with the goal of helping residents create new social connections, increase ties to neighbors, and encourage neighbors to actively participate in community events. All Community Ambassadors will be trained so that they too can lead the series of discussions to expand our reach and impact.

We will also employ social media tools on the ground level to advance the movement. Children’s Bureau will partner with Wondros, an internationally recognized communications and social media agency, to create a 5 minute YouTube video and mobile app that will inspire the community residents, community organizations and local businesses to Belong. The mobile app will be used to help the 75 partner organizations involved in the initiative assist families, parents and adults in identifying and connecting with local community groups and with locating critical resources in the community.

The Belong movement and resulting campaign will strengthen social connections and promote civic engagement by increasing community belonging, ownership of and access to information about their community, and mobilizing neighbors to support one another.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

For over 100 years, Children’s Bureau has been a leader and innovator of child abuse treatment and prevention in Southern California. With a focus on young children, we were one of the first professional providers of foster care in the nation. Children’s Bureau was a vital partner in establishing the Community Chest, a precursor to United Way and played a key role in establishing the USC School of Social Work. In the 1980’s we transitioned from focusing on treatment and moving on to prevention as a key means of keeping children safe from harm. Our successes in the critical battle to prevent child abuse earned us a highly regarded reputation. The California Department of Social Services’ Office of Child Abuse Prevention awarded Children’s Bureau a grant to form the Family Resource Center Technical Training and Support Team which acts as a training model for other organizations. Children’s Bureau continues to be awarded numerous contracts and grants to implement county programs designed to protect vulnerable children and enhance their lives. We are one of a small group of agencies in Los Angeles County nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children, Inc.

Our NuParent program received international recognition in Spring 2012 with an invitation to present the program, measurement tools and results at the 8th Annual British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

In 2008, we successfully completed a $22 million capital campaign and opened our new headquarters in one of the poorest, most densely populated neighborhoods in Los Angeles. From this center we launched the Magnolia Community Initiative - a ground-breaking model for large scale community mobilization where children, especially those under age 5 living in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, break all records of success in their education and health milestones and in the nurturing they receive.

Our Magnolia Community Initiative has rapidly gained the attention and recognition of national leaders, policy-makers and funders including members of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, The Tides Foundation, United Way Worldwide, Gates Foundation and East LA Initiative. Through our work with the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, we have collected and mapped the school readiness of young children in a 500 block area of Los Angeles. We are using this mapping data to help local communities map their needs and service gaps on a highly localized basis and engaging the community to improve these outcomes.

With an operating budget of $30 million and actively involved boards of directors and trustees, Children’s Bureau has the demonstrated depth of capacity, experience, relationships, and leadership to effect a community-wide transformation in Los Angeles.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Children’s Bureau has engaged 75 public and private partner organizations as well as individual community members who all have a shared vision for the transformation of this community through a collaborative alliance. Each of our diverse partners brings their own area of expertise to help shape the shared holistic outcome of strengthening communities. In particular, we will work closely with Children’s Nature Institute, LIFT-Los Angeles, and UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and communities. Together we will promote the Belong Campaign and work to address four pillars that are key to healthy neighborhoods: health, school readiness, nurturing parenting, and economic stability.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The Magnolia Community Initiative currently measures progress and success through a measurement strategy that captures outcomes at the neighborhood, family and child levels. This is already established and involves capturing data on neighborhood and family conditions on a quarterly, annual and biannual basis. As part of the measurement strategy, the Initiative conducted resident surveys in 2009 and 2011. These Community Belonging Survey results show significant need for improvement in social connectedness and social support. For example, in 2011, 66% of residents had at least one neighbor with whom they could discuss a personal problem, 31% of residents know their neighbors and feel as if they care about the neighborhood; and 24% of residents participate in neighborhood activities. We are capturing data on social connections, ties to neighbors, perceptions of community, community belonging and civic participation.

Data is also displayed on a community dashboard that informs community residents and organizational staff what children and families are experiencing – in their neighborhoods and in their interactions with service systems. This is accompanied with ongoing support with problem solving and learning about how to improve or what we call “move the dot”.

We will be administering the Community Belonging Survey again in the Fall of this year, 2013. This provides for us a community trend line for us to understand if our strategies being introduced within the Belong Campaign have contributed to a change in social connectedness at the community level.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The pioneering work of Belong with its development of a neighborhood social movement will have significant benefit to Los Angeles. Belong will bring about a holistic community transformation by galvanizing and supporting neighborhood residents to create their own community response to improving their neighborhoods/communities and contributing to safe and supportive environments for their and the neighborhood’s children.

In a county as large as Los Angeles, it is virtually impossible for programs to keep up with service demand for individuals and families. Many of our neighborhoods and the people who live there are at great risk of the major social ills that concern us all: poverty, education failure, poor health, mental illness, violence, and domestic violence. There will continue to be limited government and philanthropic resources to address these large scale problems for the foreseeable future. And, the strategies that we do have as a society are relatively ineffective and too costly because they start too late when much of the damage has left scars in people’s lives. The harnessing of volunteer community ambassadors who will become champions for belonging and connecting people to social groups and critical resources is the breakthrough we need.

Belongingness is a deep level of social connections. And, based on research, belonging leads to community wellness. The development and implementation of such a strategy within a 500 block urban community of Los Angeles will serve as a laboratory for the development of a scalable and replicable model framework. This model framework that will be developed with this grant funding will be usable by the diverse communities of Los Angeles and beyond who wish to replicate using their own unique assets.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Success in 2050 for Social Connectedness would mean that residents will take pride in and have a sense of belonging to the Los Angeles community. Neighbors will know neighbors and can rely on each other for daily support and in times of crisis or need. They will voluntarily work together to not only identify and voice concerns, but they will know how to work together to solve community problems. Through the process of becoming volunteer Community Ambassadors, residents will develop their leadership skills so they know how to engage local businesses, officials and other community members. In building these connections and social bonds, levels of trust among and between these groups will grow. They will gain a deeper understanding of the importance of investing in the early years in order to improve our children’s educational and economic outcomes thereby making Los Angeles a place where residents and businesses will thrive.