connect / 2014

Promesa Boyle Heights: Transforming our Community Together.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Promesa Boyle Heights at Proyecto Pastoral

We are creating a resident-led model for change, by engaging more residents and supporting a campaign for a school-based wellness center.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We are creating a resident-led model for change, by engaging more residents and supporting a campaign for a school-based wellness center.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • East LA
  • Boyle Heights

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We’re Promesa Boyle Heights, a passionate collaborative of over 60 residents, 12 organizations, 2 schools, and dozens of businesses, non-profits, and institutional partners working together to strengthen educational and wellness opportunities- starting with our corner of Los Angeles. We believe that residents- those most impacted by community conditions- must be at the forefront of shaping LA’s future. Promesa launched in 2010, with a federal Promise Neighborhood planning grant. We are committed to BREAKING DOWN SILOS to create lasting change. The roadmap for our work is the Promesa BH implementation plan, which we developed after surveying 4,000+ residents and convening diverse stakeholders to develop a shared vision and the plan.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Boyle Heights residents sit on Promesa’s General Assembly, Steering Committees, and Solution Teams, CONNECTING with others in the collaborative to create a model inner-city community where pre-k education, K-college academic success, healthy environments, stable housing, safe public spaces, and economic development flourish.
Our first success was the community-school model at Mendez High School. By 1) creating formal partnerships between school staff, families and partner organizations; 2) launching targeted interventions for the most at-risk students, and 3) hiring an Achievement Counselor to coordinate college readiness supports, we raised the graduation rate by nearly 20% from 2010 and 2013. Last year, Mendez became the most improved traditional high school in California with a 76-point API gain and the highest cohort of students accepted to college since the school opened. Next, we will build momentum through:

  1. Development of Existing Resident Leaders. We will sustain resident leadership participation in Promesa, and also build a shared understanding of issues identified in Promesa’s implementation plan through 2-day “Leadership Academy” retreats that give the history and political context of public education, as well skills trainings in collaborative leadership, policy & legislative process, public speaking & personal storytelling for outreach & media. The goal? Equipping leaders to optimally spearhead Promesa’s work, including the wellness center campaign now underway. Building a Wellness Center at Mendez that provides students with physical & mental health services, connects them to resources, and also serves as a hub for community action is a key Promesa goal. In phase 1, resident leaders visited four existing school-based wellness centers, surveyed nearly 1,000 residents, and successfully pushed LAUSD to earmark $50 million for school wellness centers throughout the district.
  2. Education and Engagement of 300+ New Residents. We will support existing resident leaders in disseminating academic and wellness information, linking families to Promesa health & wellness workshops and resources, and galvanizing community participation in phase 2 of the wellness center campaign, which will include coordination of education events at Hollenbeck Middle School and Mendez High School, more wellness center site visits, and meeting with district leaders and government officials to press for a Mendez Wellness Center by the 2015-2016 school year.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

We believe that the challenges facing Los Angeles are big, complex and dynamic. As a result, communities across the city require a wide-range of coordinated strategies and approaches. The Promesa Boyle Heights collective impact model challenges all Angelenos to build on the strengths of individuals and organizations and to work together to more effectively impact youth, families, and community change.

Over the course of more than 60 meetings, Promesa’s General Assembly of residents, youth, educators, and other community stakeholders developed comprehensive strategies aimed at turning around two target schools (Hollenbeck Middle School and Mendez Learning Center), as well as addressing social determinants of education such as housing, safety, emotional wellness, and economic development. Promesa Boyle Heights operates under the Collective Impact framework with 12 nonprofit partners and two target schools that are committed to our grassroots governance model, which emphasizes that students, residents, and teachers—those most impacted by systems and policies—must lead community change efforts at every stage.

We are building a model in which we catalyze “everyday” peoples’ passions, lived-experiences, and creativity to support comprehensive solutions that build on one another’s assets. Moreover, it is a model that can be replicated by other low-income communities within Los Angeles that, though each facing their own unique issues, share a common need to raise the voices of local residents in the face of such forces as gentrification. Promesa Boyle Heights’ mission and reason for being is not simply to transform Boyle Heights. Rather, it is to “scale up” our successes so that by 2050, Los Angeles is a city in which ALL residents are empowered to work with schools, elected officials, and business leaders in order to collectively shape the future of the city.

Whom will your project benefit?

Boyle Heights lies on the eastern edge of LA and is one of its oldest communities. It covers 6.5 square miles and is isolated from downtown and the greater LA area by the LA River and several converging freeways. Boyle Heights is one of LA’s most densely populated neighborhoods (95,000+) and has one of the highest percentages of Latino residents (94%). Two-thirds of adult residents do not have a high school degree, and 1 in 4 families live below the federal poverty line - double the County rate.

But these statistics can only begin to represent our community and whom this project will benefit. Boyle Heights is also vibrant and tight-knit. Once defined by our struggling schools, gang violence, and dilapidated infrastructure, Boyle Heights is becoming a model for how residents and organizations can come together to address critical issues in their community. Over the past ten years, our community has pressed for and won important battles, including the opening of new schools, improvements to infrastructure, a place at the table with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles amidst a move to privatize local housing developments, and modest gains in graduation rates.

Yet, our community continues to face major challenges – too many students continue to fall through the cracks; job and economic growth opportunities are sparse; access to health and wellness resources is still splintered; and mounting gentrification pressures on our community means decreasing access to affordable and safe housing for the lowest income residents.

Now more than ever, it is vital that the work of Promesa Boyle Heights – particularly our work to strengthen existing resident leaders and cultivate new ones – continues to grow.

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

Our collaborative is based on the core believe that no one person or individual can do it alone. We have been operating as a collaborative since 2010. Our initial collaboration focused on the development of a strategic plan for our community, including developing a shared vision, outcome goals, and agreed upon strategies.

We are now working together to impact four agreed-upon outcomes:

1) improving graduation rates at Mendez High School, 2) building a college going culture in our community, 3) increasing access to health and wellness services, and 4) fostering leadership and civic engagement opportunities for adult residents and youth.

Our collective impact model elevates partners to continuum leadership roles. In addition to partnering with the target schools and their education reform manager Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), 12 agencies are collaborating as Continuum Lead Partners. We also work closely with two schools: Hollenbeck Middle School and Mendez High School. All partners signed an MOU at the end of our planning period in 2011 and 125 residents signed a commitment form. The coordination of resident engagement and leadership moving forward, particularly as it relates to the Wellness Center campaign, will be led by East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), InnerCity Struggle, & Proyecto Pastoral.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?

  • Rates of volunteerism
  • Adults getting sufficient social & emotional support
  • Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)
  • Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)
  • Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric)
  • Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)
  • Participation in school events, participation in solution teams and the general assembly, and progress towards our campaign goal.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

  1. Rates of volunteerism. Promesa’s partners rely on committed volunteers, many of whom also volunteer their time as members of the General Assembly, Steering Committees, and Solution Teams. For this project, residents will also volunteer their time to participate in the “Leadership Academy” retreats, the wellness campaign, and door-to-door outreach in our 30-block target area to educate and engage 300+ new residents.
  2. Adults getting sufficient social & emotional support. Residents participating in Promesa receive social/emotional support from one another through participation in the governance; educational workshops and retreats like the Leadership Academies; community-school events at Mendez like parent/youth college workshops; and campaigns. In addition, the Wellness Center at Mendez (once built), will offer social and emotional support resources not only to students but their parents as well.
  3. Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally. Residents participating in Promesa-sponsored education and wellness workshops, and those who assist resident leaders by distributing event flyers, for example, do so on a volunteer-basis. Their commitment of personal time and effort in order to educate themselves, their families, and their neighbors serves as a vibrant example of volunteerism in Los Angeles. Moving forward, we plan to track their volunteer hours.
  4. Government responsiveness to residents’ needs. Existing resident leaders educated LAUSD on the importance of allocating $50 million for wellness centers. We are confident that through their site visits to/analysis of existing wellness centers, as well as their commitment to educating other residents about plans for a wellness center at Mendez and gathering feedback, our leadership will successfully demonstrate to LAUSD and funders that we are ready as a community to launch a sustainable wellness center. Leadership development within the project will also prepare residents to lead other campaigns.
  5. Total number of social media friends. Proyecto Pastoral, ELACC, InnerCity Struggle, and Mendez will promote the project on social media, as will other members of the collaborative.
  6. Attendance at public/open street gatherings. Promesa’s General Assemblies (held quarterly) are each attended by approximately 80 residents and stakeholders, while attendance at Promesa education and wellness workshops are attended by anywhere between 15 residents and 100 residents.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. Rates of volunteerism. We will track outreach efforts. We will track participation in General Assembly meetings, Steering Committee meetings, and Solution Teams. We will track volunteer participation in the school and partner organizations. We will track participation and growth as a result of participation in leadership academies. We will do this through participation logs and pre and post evaluations at our leadership academies.
  2. Adults getting sufficient social & emotional support. We currently collect sign-in sheets for all of our events. Moving forward, we will track participation of individuals in multiple events and conduct pre and post evaluations of each academic and wellness support series. On an ongoing basis, we will collect anecdotal evidence of this metric by interviewing project participants for print media and videos that will posted on Promesa’s website and shared on social media.
  3. Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally. We will track parent and resident participation in school events and education and wellness series workshops.
  4. Government responsiveness to residents’ needs. We will track the number of education meetings with government officials and the progress in the responsiveness to the efforts (e.g. number of meetings, number of media hits, LAUSD approving wellness center)
  5. Total number of social media friends. We will tack social media hits of our wellness campaign, in additional to traditional media hits.
  6. Attendance at public/open street gatherings. We will track participation in General Assembly meetings, Steering Committee meetings, and Solution Teams. We will also track self-reported participation in other public/open street gatherings such as forums, health fairs, and town hall meetings.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

We have learned that no one person or organization can do improve community outcomes alone, and that residents are the key to long-term, sustainable community change.

  1. Our theory of change is based on building reciprocal relationships with residents and empowering them to create change in their lives and the larger community. We foster relationships through our programs & civic engagement work and by including a majority of residents in the governance body of Promesa BH. The greatest lesson that has been continually reinforced is that when you give authentic voice to your community and honor their decisions, you will be rewarded with committed participation and sustainable programs. To do this well, we must see community engagement and leadership as an ongoing process and investment. If we are being effective with engagement, we always have a new cohort of residents that need to be integrated to Promesa BH and supported in their development. If we are being effective with leadership development, the type of knowledge and skills that needs to be fostered with residents grows and evolves as their leadership grows and evolves.
  2. A lesson learned from the PN early implementation phase is that effective collaborations take time, but that relationships with schools can be strengthened by partnering on a small, tangible project such as the Academic SPARK project we initiated with Mendez for seniors at highest risk of not graduating. By aligning our strengths and resources with Mendez and our partner ICS, we achieved a 20 point increase in graduation rates and a 76 point API gain. We plan to continue to invest and nourish the strong relationships and partnerships we’ve built.
  3. Another critical lesson learned from our planning year is that sustainability is also dependent on having a strong evaluation and communications plan. We plan to develop a communications strategy and marketing materials to better spotlight the successes of our community. More importantly, we plan to dedicate resources to data & evaluation so that the information we share is based on documented results with children and families and for the community.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Implementing our project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal for two simple reasons: 1) we will launch it from the strong foundation we built during Promesa’s planning phase and over the last 3 years of building the community-school model at Mendez and 2) because we already have a cohort of committed resident leaders – between 75 and 100, in fact.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Securing funding for the entire Promesa BH strategies is one of our biggest challenges. Our two high scoring applications for Department of Education implementation funds did not win grants, which has necessitated that we scale down our original $30 million implementation budget to $2 million over the next three years. Thanks to our success in securing funding from a host of foundations and private funders, however – as well as the generous allocation of in-kind resources from all members of the collaborative – the work continues.

Yet another challenge is our need to build broad support for the initiative. In short, Promesa Boyle Heights represents a major paradigm shift for inner-city community transformation, and we fully realize that it will take time and effort to help others understand the value of our collective impact model, specifically why the time required to link the efforts of community organizations pays off by ensuring we do not duplicate one another’s efforts, and how educating residents and building resident leadership is crucial to sustainability.

How much ground must we still cover? In an immediate sense, the 4,000+ residents who participated in Promesa’s planning process are but a small fraction of Boyle Heights’ 95,000+ residents. For the purposes of this project specifically, we must convince LAUSD to allocate wellness center funds to Mendez. And we must also continue to secure formal support from local government and larger funders who have the capacity to donate substantial resources and dramatically move the other strategies in our implementation plan forward.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Quality improvement research