DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative: “You can’t just do part of a child’s life”

Jan 31, 2012

By Stephanie Schmit

The Parkside-Kenilworth community in Washington D.C.  faces numerous challenges. Crime is high. About half of the residents live below the federal poverty line. Babies born in this neighborhood have some of the lowest average birth weights in the city. And nearly 90 percent of families with children in this neighborhood are headed by single females. 

The neighborhood was among 21 designated in 2010 to receive a planning grant (the district received $500,000) as part of the national Promise Neighborhoods, an initiative that takes a comprehensive approach to improving child and family wellbeing by creating a system of services and support for families. Today, the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) is well under way, moving recently from the planning year into the implementation year.

DCPNI's mission is "to increase the number of children who complete their education--from cradle to college-and enter adulthood as productive participants in the 21st century economy and in the civic life of their community."

A briefing at the Urban Institute last week discussed the initiative's development over the last year and its future. Plans include the creation of a principals' council to bring together the public and charter schools in the community and a community advisory board. Throughout the planning year, DCPNI staff worked to get community "buy-in" to the idea and to engage community members by hosting dinners and community events. Additionally, the initiative has secured necessary financial and in-kind resources, exceeding the federal grant requirements. The Urban Institute's report, Bringing Promise to Washington, DC, outlines the successes and challenges of the planning year.

Challenges remain as the initiative moves deeper into the implementation stage. DCPNI will have to continue to work to keep the community invested in the project, which is particularly difficult with a highly mobile population. Moving into the implementation phase, DCPNI will serve as an umbrella organization for coordinating a broad range of services and providers. Because the federal planning grant ended in October 2011, DCPNI will also have to continue raising funds to secure financial stability for the initiative into the future.

Creating a system where all pieces work together and keeping the focus on providing children and their families' critical services and supports, as the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative is setting out to do, will create a community of healthy and productive children and families. Alice Rivlin, the briefing's moderator, said it best, "you can't just do part of a child's life."

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