The National Civic League announced the winners of the 61st annual All-America City award during a celebration at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center in Kansas City.
- Chandler, Arizona
- Lynwood, California
- Rancho Cordova, California
- North Miami, Florida
- Acworth, Georgia
- Des Moines, Iowa
- Salisbury, Maryland
- Gastonia, North Carolina
- Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
- El Paso, Texas
Summaries of their projects after the jump
Chandler Heights Community Facilities
When Chandler’s Municipal Utilities staff determined it would not require all 113 acres it owned for a recharge project, they looked for other uses that could benefit the residents in a rapidly growing section of the community. With the Community Services Department seeking land in the area for a new park and recreation amenity and the Police Department looking for a substation parcel, an idea was born. Despite the seemingly disparate objectives of the three departments, their common needs and the opportunity to share this land resource resulted in a partnership in the project that became collectively known as the Chandler Heights Community Facilities. The project now includes a 20,000-square-foot police substation, a 31-acre park, that includes a 5-acre urban fishing lake and a 10,000-square-foot, multi-generational Environmental Education Center. The Chandler Heights Community Facilities are the result of a unique vision that incorporated these interconnected amenities into one amazing project.
Chandler Care Center
The Chandler CARE Center (CCC) is a school-based, community-linked program of the Chandler Unified School District that promotes school readiness, attendance and academic success by providing medical treatment, dental treatment, immunizations, counseling, social services, parent education programs, and referrals for youth birth-to-18 years old. In February 2010, the Chandler CARE Center opened a new, 8,800-square-foot free-standing facility this February after outgrowing its three-classroom space in an elementary school. Many medical, dental, counseling, and service organizations donate their professional services at the Chandler CARE Center on a scheduled, rotating basis, so there is no charge to any child, family, or the school district for services. With its new center built firmly upon a foundation of community support, the CCC will continue as a recognized model for improving the health, well-being and educational achievement of needy youth and parents.
The Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse
In 2006, a group of young residents, peer leaders in an organization called ICAN, gathered to identify issues critical to Chandler’s youth. The group identified Underage Drinking as a critical issue among teens in the community. From that dialogue, the Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse (CCYSA) was formed. Leading the process themselves and engaging ICAN staff, the teens developed and implemented a comprehensive community development strategy to address Underage Drinking. Actions included the identification of City ordinances on signage requirements, community education including a 30-minute show on the City’s Cable Channel 11, a survey of consumers, and many other strategies. Utilizing these resources, the teens then collaborated with local merchants to remove alcohol signage, provided free training to merchants on ID’ing, and educated various sectors of the community on the risks of underage drinking.
Advanced Surveillance and Protection
In August 2008, the City Council approved a joint effort between the City and Sheriff’s Department to install video surveillance cameras along the corridor of Long Beach Boulevard. The City and Sheriff’s Department, with community input, developed an aggressive plan to attack violent crime and strengthen public safety. The plan included a targeted gang strategy, video surveillance, youth leadership programs, expansion of Neighborhood Block Watch groups, and a community awareness campaign. By the end of 2008, Lynwood’s Advance Surveillance and Protection (ASAP) program was born. Its technology includes video surveillance; acoustic gunshot detection; automatic license plate recognition scanners (ALPR); and “Bluecheck,” the newest mobile device which allows deputies to scan thumbprints for immediate identification of individuals. According to Lynwood’s Sheriff’s Department, these efforts have resulted in the lowest number of homicides in the city since 1985.
A Brush with Kindness
In October 2007 Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles presented to the Lynwood Redevelopment Agency a home improvement program for low-income homeowners called “A Brush with Kindness”. The purpose was to help low-income homeowners improve the appearance and safety of their homes, which would increase the values of their homes and the esthetics of the neighborhood. Qualified low and moderate income homeowners were selected through a grant process to receive a variety of exterior home repair services performed by volunteers guided by Habitat for Humanity staff. The Lynwood Redevelopment Agency selected specific corridors of the City where the pilot program was implemented. Lynwood homeowners partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles by investing hours of sweat equity into the construction of their home and took part in the affiliate education program. The program rehabilitated ten homes at a cost of approximately $75,000 (to pay for materials and administration) from the Agency’s unappropriated Fund Balance. Due to alternate funding sources and volunteer nature of the program, the City derived a benefit of approximately $65,345 of home improvements.
The Lynwood Youth Sports Association
Originally founded as the “Lynwood Baseball Association” by local residents in the 1950s, the Lynwood Youth Sports Association (LSA) aimed to first support youth baseball programming within the City of Lynwood. Because of strong need and exemplary efforts by LSA community members, the Lynwood Youth Sports Association quickly grew from a “t-shirt and jeans” baseball-only program into a 100% volunteer operated organization serving over 15,000 youth per year in seven different sports with national governing body ties. As an additional part of LSA programming, the City and LSA offers its “Mobile Recreation” team that travels to the different “neighborhood” parks to offer formal academic assistance and “drop-in” recreational activities for those living within walking distance of the particular parks. The team of staff and LSA volunteers pre-schedule visits to the parks and distribute flyers in the neighborhoods they will be visiting one-day ahead of time. This program meets the very crucial need of academic assistance and recreational activities to those areas of the City that are too far from the main community center. Typically, these areas are some of the most underserved and lowest income neighborhoods in Lynwood.
Rancho Cordova, California
Build It and They Will Come: Rancho Cordova City Hall
In 2008, the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce, Cordova Community Council (CCC) and city government came together under one roof at City Hall. The synergy created by the co-location of all three major components of city life has created an atmosphere of collaborative problem-solving in which all partners share equal status. All three organizations are pursuing a common vision that is generally stated as “improving the image of Rancho Cordova.” It is recognized by each component that it will take the efforts of government, business and citizens working together to accomplish that mission and that all will benefit if successful. The results have been positive. The Chamber, on the brink of dissolution in 2007, has become a robust business organization hosting national economic experts on business topics. The CCC is a bustling center of activity which sponsors monthly public events attracting thousands of citizens to celebrations that celebrate everything from patriotism to cultural diversity. Technical assistance is provided to other non-profits to improve their own performance. In Rancho Cordova City Hall, citizens have achieved a structure designed to encourage community use while helping reinforce pride, identity and distinctiveness.
Turning the Diversity Challenge on its Head
In the past 30 years, Rancho Cordova has experienced three great waves of immigration to the community. Demographic changes are reflected in Census data that shows 25 percent of households speak a language other than English and 28 different languages are spoken in students’ homes. The Community Heritage Program enrolls more than 500 students in Saturday morning schools which reinforce academic standards through instruction provided in the home languages of the students. Parents seek out the Saturday Schools for their children to strengthen their native cultural literacy. Research shows that literacy in a mother tongue helps students gain proficiency in English. Spanish-speakers who attend the Saturday School are three times as likely to be proficient in English as those who do not attend. Parents’ English language proficiency is also strengthened, and they receive advice from trusted program staff on how to assist their children and themselves to be successful. By deepening parents’ understanding of the American school system and community programs, Saturday Schools build valuable bridges between recent immigrants and the community.
Project 680 is a simple, grassroots response to homelessness in our community. It began with a drive to collect a pair of socks for every child in Rancho Cordova schools documented as “homeless.” There were 680 of them at the time, giving the effort its name. Today, this on-going project engages the community in many ways. It addresses immediate, simple comfort needs for homeless students who need socks, underwear and shoes. But it is also an important tool for engaging virtually every sector of the community in responding to a difficult problem.
The immediate result of Project 680 was collection of 3,144 pairs of socks within a matter of weeks. A community meeting was organized and a cross-section of the community turned out to learn from school officials more about student homelessness. From socks, Project 680 moved on to underwear with similar results. Last spring, Project 680 proudly announced they had gathered 3,198 pairs of underwear … and was moving on to shoes. While Project 680 has met felt needs of the community, the larger impact has been the awakening of the community to the plight of homeless students.
North Miami, Florida
North Miami Complete Count Committee (CCC)
In response to a severe undercount in Census 2000, the City of North Miami established the North Miami Complete Count Committee (CCC) in June, 2009, with representatives from different segments of the community including: City departments, faith-based organizations, educational organizations, community-based organizations, businesses, and media/promotion. North Miami‘s goal for the 2010 census is to obtain a one-hundred (100%) count of its population.The City officially kicked off Census activities on July 4, 2009, publicly expressing its commitment to fund city activities designed to raise residents’ awareness of the Census and maximize their participation in completing and returning Census questionnaires by April 1, 2010. An accurate count will therefore increase benefits from approximately 215 government programs to North Miami which, as an entitlement city will reap higher rewards from transportation, law enforcement, healthcare and education programs as well as population based formula grants.
The City of North Miami Parks and Recreation Department was one of ten communities selected through the National Recreation and Park Association in 2009 to advance community leadership in the nation’s efforts to prevent chronic diseases and related risk factors through a locally collaborative approach known as ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation and EnVironmental ChangE). ACHIEVE works to bring together local leaders and stakeholders to build healthier communities by promoting policy, systems, and environmental change strategies that focus on physical activity, nutrition, tobacco cessation, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. ACHIEVE is an innovative approach that brings together all sectors of the community to spur policy change toward prevention of chronic diseases. The ACHIEVE approach aims to promote improvements such as increased access to and use of attractive and safe locations for engaging in physical activity; revised school food contracts; and requirements for sidewalks and crossing signals in neighborhoods to make them more pedestrian friendly, among others.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Known for its innovative exhibitions and public and educational programming, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has had a multi-faceted, positive effect on the City and its citizens, particularly its youth. The Museum offers an array of programming that encourages students to appreciate and understand better local and international contemporary art, thereby connecting them to broader local and global issues. Its partnership with the North Miami School District for the Museum and Communications magnet works to ensure the success of youth in North Miami. Through this partnership, MOCA offers school-wide programs in museum, fine arts, and communications studies at local public schools. More than 10,000 students and 400 faculty members participate in this program that incorporates art, object and project based learning as a means to encourage critical analysis, invention and problem solving, stimulate visual literacy and build communication skills. In addition, Junior Docents and High School students from MOCA’s Summer Journalism Institute write, design, and produce South Florida's only art journal for teenagers (one of only three in the nation). MOCA’zine, now in its 10th year aims to introduce students to careers in the visual arts and art journalism. MOCA’zine is distributed free to over 60,000 public high school students a year and mailed to over 5,000 art patrons.
In 2006, the City of Acworth and a group of community leaders began raising funds to construct an athletic field for children with special needs. The vision was to create an inclusive facility with a synthetic rubber surface with all bases and dugouts flush with the playing surface to accommodate children in wheelchairs and walkers. The $1.2 million fundraising goal to construct the facility seemed unattainable at first. However, through the generosity of an anonymous donor in the amount of $250,000, state and other local governments contributing over $250,000, private cash and in kind services from the community, and the commitment of City of Acworth finances and human capital, the fund raising effort was catapulted. On April 17, 2009 the dream was realized! Over 140 children and their “buddies,” local high school student athletes, took the field for the inaugural season of the Horizon Baseball League. The field was official named the Horizon Field on opening day, with the slogan of "Where the Sky is the Limit." The facility is the only one of its kind in Cobb County, a County with over 800,000 residents, and a county school system with over 13,000 children with special needs.
The Expanding Horizons Program through the City of Acworth is an innovative educational program funded by a private benefactor with a vision of impacting the disadvantaged youth in the local community. Through a collaborative effort with counselors from the local Cobb County School System, elementary to high school students are identified to take part in an effort to expand their educational horizons by participating in a guided series of edifying field trips throughout the school year. Each participant experiences an all expenses paid trip that is dedicated to the reinforcement of subject matter taught in the classroom, encouragement of learning, and the understanding of cultural differences. The Expanding Horizons Program is ground breaking as it has impacted countless lives of children and parents of the Acworth community by creating more interactive education opportunities for disadvantaged students who may not otherwise be able to afford them.
Acworth Achievers Mentoring and After School Program
The Acworth Parks and Recreation Department's Acworth Achievers Mentoring and After School Program provides participants educational assistance through tutoring, free internet access for school assignments, engaging recreational activities, adult guidance and encouragement through mentorship. The goal of Acworth Achievers is to aid the participants in developing positive and more advantageous habits for their future. For those that are interested in getting involved by volunteering can do so through the following. Volunteers assist with the program in one of three ways: 1) by mentoring the community's youth which facilitates their growth and development by way of making a connection with a young adult; 2) by providing general help to engage in recreational activities with youth such as helping with homework or playing basketball; or 3) by tutoring a student in one or more subject areas.
Des Moines, Iowa
The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park
The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park is situated in the heart of downtown Des Moines and includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra, Martin Puryear, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, and Anthony Caro, among others. The park itself provides a rolling landscape where artwork has been placed in crescent-shaped open cutaways creating a sculpture garden experience unlike any other in the United States. The sculpture park features 24 works donated to the museum by the Pappajohns with an estimated value of $40 million. The free, open to the public sculpture park has proven Des Moines' commitment to public art, and enhanced the aesthetics which spurred additional revitalization to the Western Gateway. This project has helped the City move closer towards its goals to become an entertainment hub for all ages attracting visitors from the metro region and beyond, creating pride in community assets and contributing to the vibrancy of the downtown area.
The Kiwanis Miracle Field and League
The Kiwanis Miracle Field sits across from Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs, and is providing children with special needs the opportunity to be a part of an organized baseball league. In 2006, the Kiwanis Club of Des Moines took on the challenge of building this “Miracle Field,” and the community support of the project was tremendous. The 2007-2008 Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute Class chose the field as their class project. These emerging leaders worked alongside Kiwanis members in designing the complex, and local businesses and contractors gave monetary contributions as well as in-kind support by donating lighting, materials, scoreboard, and landscaping. The Iowa Cubs and Hubbell Realty partnered with the Kiwanis by providing the land on which the field was built. The Iowa Cubs also committed to site maintenance and oversight. The Miracle Field was dedicated on September 20, 2008. The first season had 61 players on six teams and they played five games each in a span of three weeks. In 2009, ten teams were formed and 147 players played. The Miracle Field and League has strengthened individuals, families, and the community.
The George Washington Carver Community School
The George Washington Carver Community School (GWCCS) is the result of a five-year planning process including faculty, staff, and parents from two now closed elementary schools, administrative staff from Des Moines Schools and staff and elected leadership from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, Iowa Health Systems, Iowa Lutheran Auxiliary, the City of Des Moines, and the Capitol Park Neighborhood Association. The GWCCS is home to not only a pre-K-5 school with a separate seven classroom wing dedicated to early childhood education and child mental health services, but also has a community area dedicated to parent meetings and other educational/ community services. A school for more than 600 elementary students, this $15.2 million building also features the full-service Ellis Levitt Boys & Girls Club. The Iowa Lutheran Hospital's Not New Shop, a consignment store that supports hospital projects and the community is also located here. This state of the art facility acts as a "sparkplug" for neighborhood development in a blighted corridor east of the Des Moines River and has given new hope to a neighborhood community challenged by urban flight/blight, low paying jobs with few or no benefits, climbing rates of juvenile delinquency and disproportionate minority confinement.
Rose & Lake Streets Housing Revitalization
Community revitalization takes the involvement of a diverse group of people and organizations. In 2005, Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Service, Inc. (SNHS), a non-profit corporation, took the initiative to turn condemned rental housing into newly constructed single family residences by purchasing eleven condemned properties on Rose and Lake Streets in Salisbury. SNHS applied for and received a grant through the City of Salisbury from the State of Maryland for the demolition of the existing structures. Housing construction was provided in conjunction with the Parkside High School CTE program. SNHS also partnered with a developer who agreed to build a home at no profit. Construction was funded by the Hebron Savings bank, and interest that accrued on the loan was donated to the homeowner to assist them with down payment and closing costs. The Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore provided grant funding for landscaping and fencing, and labor for the beautification was provided by residents and volunteers from Salisbury University.
Organizations within Salisbury have taken very innovative approaches to provide for the growing homeless population. The Cold Weather Emergency Shelter (CESP) is open from January through March to provide shelter and meals for homeless men. CESP, operational since 2005, has assisted 667 homeless individuals and provided 12,824 bednights. This project spawned two additional programs: the Code Blue Shelter operated by Hope And Life Outreach (HALO) and assistance to homeless veterans by NATRA, Inc. The Code Blue Shelter opened in 2008 to provide shelter to women and children when the temperature dropped below 32 degrees. In 2009, HALO provided 2,610 bednights and 5,220 meals. HALO also provides meals to homeless individuals with their street outreach as well as workshops and a literacy program to help build self-sufficiency. In 2009, NATRA, Inc., a non-profit that provides counseling services to veterans, conducted a “Stand Down” for three days to assist veterans in obtaining benefits and to determine the extent of homelessness within this population. This event resulted in 150 veterans applying for benefits to which they were not aware they were entitled. Because of its success a larger multi-state event is planned for 2010.
Youth Leadership Academy
In 2005, as a result of an essay about Salisbury’s efforts to help with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Salisbury’s Promise received a $20,000 award. Wanting to reinvest the money in the community’s youth, a group of stakeholders agreed to create a Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) – to be created by and for youth. The Academy is focused on developing leadership from within the community by reaching out to engage non-traditional leaders among youth. Any youth from grades 8-11 can apply at no cost. The Academy has never rejected an applicant. At the Academy, students come together for three days in the summer. From those participants, a Youth Action Team (YAT) is created to plan next summer’s Academy. YLA increases the youth voice in the community. It serves as a staging point for youth to move their agenda forward and strengthen leadership skills. To sustain YLA, additional funds were secured from local organizations. Adult facilitators are volunteers from local universities, faith community, and civic organizations. One graduate explained that YLA “has brought the youth voice to the table—youth are included in planning groups as an expectation not an exception now.”
Gastonia, North Carolina
Homeward Bound in Highland
Although Highland, Gastonia’s largest African-American community, was once a vibrant neighborhood, today its nearly 6,000 residents face the consequences of long-term poverty and benign neglect: poor-quality housing, the absence of commerce, and chronic health issues. Housing is at the core, as some 51% of homes in Highland are substandard. Against this backdrop, the City of Gastonia sought to revitalize housing in Highland. In 2006, the City partnered with neighborhood residents, community organizations, and the private sector. Using city-owned land and $4,300,000 from non-profit and commercial lenders, they developed Gateway Village Senior Housing. Completed in June 2009, the 40 apartments were fully occupied that August. Hope4Gaston is also concerned about homeowners. In 2008, this home-grown, faith-based group gathered contractors, tradespersons, and others from their churches to repair homes in Highland, at no charge. The City of Gastonia provided a $27,000 grant for materials. Homeowners gave permission to make repairs and at two events, 2,000 volunteers repaired floors, built roofs, fixed walls, and installed new appliances. After two ten-hour days, repairs valued at $348,000 were made to 50 homes.
Run for the Money
Since 2003, the Run for the Money event has become a mainstay of the nonprofit community in Gastonia and Gaston County. An event unique to the region, it is a unifying force that brings great people together from all walks of life. It started as the Community Foundation of Gaston County’s 25th anniversary celebration at a time when Gaston nonprofits were struggling. Staff members at the Community Foundation promoted the idea of a fun run/walk to help local nonprofits through a new, signature event called Run for the Money. Agencies could not only gain charitable gifts, but the Foundation would also offer a $250,000 match. The first event involved 61 nonprofits, 1,304 individual donors, and raised $704,000 including a match of 80 cents of every dollar raised. Last year, 115 participating organizations raised $1,262,802 from 1,800 individual donors including the $250,000 match from the Foundation. This year, 123 organizations signed up to participate in the eighth Run on April 17. All told, the Run has raised $7,891,836 for Gaston County nonprofits in its seven years, including $1,925,000 in Foundation matching funds.
Climbing to Success
Gaston County has the Charlotte region’s highest dropout rate at 5.6%, higher than the state average of 4.3%. Our consistent challenge is inspiring our children to raise their educational success rate to maintain and recruit good jobs. Two influential organizations have mutually concentrated on changing the statistics on employability and are coordinating efforts in an extraordinary way: the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council (MYLC) and Gaston Together’s Gaston Career Climb. MYLC builds stronger relationships among four city high schools through Project Tassel, encouraging students to stay in school and graduate. Gaston Career Climb is a program designed to elevate the workforce to compete in a global economy and set the community apart in the Charlotte region. When two great ideas merge that address one of Gastonia’s most critical needs, they create a perfect recipe for economic vitality for Climbing to Success.
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Johnnie Dodds Boulevard Mobility Study
The importance of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard (JDB) to the Town of Mount Pleasant and the surrounding transportation network cannot be underestimated. It links five states and six major eastern coast cities. Improvements to JDB were prompted by a change in development patterns and explosive population growth, which resulted in greater demand along the corridor and throughout the Town. The outreach effort triggered by the mobility study has had a strong impact on the redesign of JDB. Public involvement was pivotal in helping preserve aesthetics consistent with the “urban boulevard” look that residents adamantly wanted. The study significantly reduced new right-of-way acquisitions from residential and commercial properties. It enhanced the economic viability of local businesses by promoting on-street parking along its frontage roads. It facilitated safe pedestrian/bike connectivity and brought sustainable, green landscaping to maintain the character of the corridor. The outreach effort carried public input further into the design process than is typical for a heavily used freight route. The JDB Mobility Study has, through a very inclusive civic engagement process, impacted the look and feel of a major artery of Mount Pleasant for decades to come.
Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Plan
Following the population explosion of the past decade, Mount Pleasant’s growth began to shift from the more established and built-in area of Coleman Boulevard to the north area of town. Town Council understood that if Coleman Boulevard was to remain competitive and retain its image as Mount Pleasant’s main street, it had to capitalize on its unique assets and revitalize itself into a vibrant downtown. The Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Plan is the product of an intensive civic engagement effort lead by the Coleman Boulevard Revitalization Advisory consisting of business owners, property owners, public utility, government and non-profit representatives, bankers, as well as the general public, residents and concerned citizens. The Revitalization Plan has already guided the redevelopment of some of Coleman Boulevard’s most visible assets. In less than one year, a blighted property was purchased for redevelopment, a new state-of-the-art middle school welcomed students, and a new farmers market facility re-opened. By addressing deficiencies in the most visible anchors of the boulevard first, stakeholders have energized the redevelopment process and contributed to the vitality of the main street of Mount Pleasant.
Weaving Aquatic Training with Education and Recreation
The Weaving Aquatic Training with Education and Recreation Program offers elementary school children (K-1) the opportunity to learn how to swim, gain water safety knowledge and learn rescue techniques. Surrounded by water, Mount Pleasant’s aquatic activities abound and offer countless opportunities to swimmers and challenges to non-swimmers. Over the past 10 years, MPRD and the W.A.T.E.R Program have sought to bring water safety to all children (K-1) in the community. To date, more than 5,500 children have graduated from the program with basic water safety skills. Each first grade and kindergarten class is offered a two-week swim session that meets Monday through Thursday. Each daily lesson lasts 40 minutes. The full session (8 classes) is deeply discounted and costs $5 per child. If a child receives financial aid or cannot afford this amount, MPRD will absorb the fee. The program is offered to seven public schools and six private schools. In many instances, the W.A.T.E.R Program is but the beginning of a life-long enjoyment of aquatic recreational pursuits.
El Paso, Texas
Though able to organize when necessary around big ticket issues, citizens’ consistent and meaningful involvement in City government was lacking in El Paso. City government realized there were limited opportunities for citizens to be active in government and worked to develop specific strategies aimed at better educating, organizing and empowering citizens. The Neighborhood Services division was formed, dedicating staff to the enhanced focus on citizens’ and neighborhoods’ involvement. A newly created Neighborhood Leadership Academy provided citizens the leadership, direction and knowledge needed to better understand and navigate City processes as well as to become a neighborhood resource and ambassador. An improved Neighborhood Recognition ordinance was enacted, allowing for more defined neighborhood associations and neighborhood boundaries. A focus was then placed on identifying those neighborhoods that were underrepresented and did not have an organized association to bring them to the table. The Neighborhood Improvement Program empowered residents to improve their neighborhoods by submitting neighborhood-driven small-scale capital projects. Over the last five years, the City of El Paso has seen a substantial shift in the relationship between the organization and citizens at-large.
Storm Water Utility Project
Though El Paso is an oasis in the Chihuahuan desert, seeing on average over 300 sunny days a year, the city was struck a severe blow when torrential rains tore through the borderland in July 2006. The storm left in its wake $200 million in damages, and both state and federal disaster proclamations were issued. El Paso needed to find a long-term solution for dedicated stormwater infrastructure funding. The City and outside consultants gauged the amount of damage to public drainage infrastructure and brainstormed viable solutions for providing the needed on-going revenue stream. The suggestion of a stand-alone stormwater utility emerged, and it was taken to the public for an extended, open vetting process aimed at eliciting community input and feedback. The process helped the community work through logistical concerns and legislative issues, and the utility was established by ordinance in June 2007.
Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros
In 1996, a known educator and author sent out an open call to educators and librarians across the country asking them to observe a day in April as a special time to celebrate children. The El Paso Public Library and Parks & Recreation Department immediately got to work to create such an event in El Paso. Building on the familiarity in the community with Mexico’s Día del Niño (Day of the Child) every year, these City departments worked with agencies in one of the city’s and the nation’s poorest neighborhoods to create Día de los Niños / Día de los Libros (Day of the Children / Day of Books). Every year in April, the Parks and Recreation Department and El Paso Public Library work with a myriad of community organizations, which vary in scope from health care to housing, to organize and plan this free event for the community. The goal of is to provide a special day to celebrate children, literacy and health regardless of social, cultural or economic background. This event has seen its initial efforts grow into a deep-rooted annual event, one that is among that largest in the nation of its type having drawn hundreds of thousands of people and given away hundreds of thousands of books.