As more community groups start improving their neighborhoods, many feel they lack the resources to do the job. Our guest on NENfm, Dr Gerald Eisman from the Institute of Civic and Community Engagement at San Francisco State University (and a speaker at theÂ Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp on August 14th), explains how the academic community could make a massive impact.
[This is Part 2 of a NEN Blog series about how an SF high school helped deliver emergency kits to the vulnerable. Read Part 1 here.]
Right after the Haiti earthquake in mid January, the students, faculty, and parents at Lick Wilmerding High School became involved in helping Haiti. During classes and assemblies, we had frequently discussed the event and what to do. Eventually, we had placed such great emphasis on the cause that we had become among the top donating high schools in America. But it also struck me something could have been done to mitigate the destruction in Haiti: Preparedness.
A little over a century ago, one of the largest ranking earthquakes of all time hit San Francisco. This is where we live and this earthquake’s “anniversary” has been projected to hit soon. We are all just waiting for it. It deeply concerned me whether any earthquake preparedness was being done in San Francisco, especially for the elderly and those who can not assist themselves on a regular basis.
Every year at Lick, the class president and representative are in charge of organizing at least one community service event for their grade. During a meeting with Junior Class Representatives Jeff Kaminsky and Briana San Diago, we brainstormed ideas that could have a lasting impact on earthquake preparedness in San Francisco. Earthquake disaster kits were our solution.
But coming up with the idea was only the first step. How much would it cost? What materials would we need? In what homes would we place them? Despite all these questions, I immediately sent an email out to The Volunteer Center of San Francisco wondering if these kits were possible or would even be beneficial.
The email I received back was from Alessa Adamo from San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster (SF CARD)[read Alessa's NEN blog about how she met Jody here]. Not only did she seem just as excited as I was, but these disaster kits were actually an idea in progress. But that idea couldn’t really move forward because of a lack of manpower and funding. Our match actually seemed perfect. Through their work with the city’s disaster feeding group, SF CARD already had a method of transportation of the kits and a list of people to whom they would be sent. The junior class would fundraise and pack the kits.
Time was essentially our only issue. This was a project for this yearâ€™s Junior Class but at first it seemed that this project would take a year or at least into the next school year to complete. But the SF Food Bank agreed to sponsor the food kits. We then set up the actual packing day to be May 8th and from then on, everything went smoothly. Alessa worked with people at the Food Bank to decide the materials that would be placed in the kits and worked out the rest of the logistics. At Lick, Briana, Jeff, and I organized fundraisers. We got our class involved in baking for a school wide bake-sale, making over $500. We then had multiple Jamba Juice Sales there after. Our total fundraising amount, a little over $1400, would be sent to the Food Bank for the packaging and water supplies of the kits.
Three months ago, I sent out that tentative email wondering if earthquake kits were possible for the Lick Juniors. Today, we actually packed them. I couldn’t believe how much Alessa and the Food Bank had gotten together for us. 14 Lick Juniors, Briana San Diego, Jeff Kaminsky, Risa Egerter, Carlos Velasco, Kayla Abe, Joey Wong, Darren Yee, Dare Bodington, Hannah Wong, Waylin Yu, Maggie Harty, Vannessa Altamirano, Joaquin Magnana, and I walked into a room in the Food Bank warehouse, and there were boxes and boxes of canned peaches, water, almonds, granola bars, raisins, crackers, whistles…etc, which would all go into the disaster kits.
It also amazed me how today was also the day I finally got to meet Alessa. As she had been through the entire process through emails and calls, she was equally inspirational while reminding the students from my class what their purpose for being at the Food Bank today was. The 500 disaster kits we packed today would be pilot disaster kits, and if it shows to be successful, thousands of kits may be distributed to needy individuals in the city. I think what excited my classmates the most was that we, Lick Wilmerding students, were a part of initiating this earthquake disaster program that could save thousands of lives.
Excited to start packing, my classmates and I got to work. We organized ourselves in an assembly line, packing 500 kits, in about 2 hours. Nearly every one of my classmates who was there today told me something along the lines of how great it was to volunteer for something that was actually lasting and how much fun they had packing the kits today. I cannot agree more with my classmates.
Lastly, I want to thank Alessa and the Food Bank one last time because we could not have moved forward without their help.ï»¿
Jody Fu is Junior Class President at Lick Wilmerding High School.
One line I often hear around town is San Francisco is a (fill in the blank) town. Some folks say we’re a tourist town, others say we’re a restaurant town. I think, however, that we’re really a college town.
Think about it. In almost every part of our city there’s some form of major academic institution. To the southwest is the venerable San Francisco State University (SFSU or SF State) with its 35,000 students. Just to its east is City College of San Francisco (CCSF), which has been building satellite campuses all over the city during the past few years. In the North is the renowned University of San Francisco (USF) and a stone’s throw away is the world-famous University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and its 28,000 employees and city-wide network of offices, hospitals, and research facilities. Toss in the art schools, small policy schools, and other boutique academic institutions and you have a multi-million (if not billion) dollar operation in our own backyard.
The reality is that this city is yet to fully leverage this asset. The academic community is San Francisco’s biggest untapped resource.
Sure, City Hall has an ongoing stream of interns and the occasional high-profile initiative as evidence of collaboration with the academic community, but in all honesty we’ve only scratched the surface.
A few years ago, when the NEN was moving out of its conceptual phase and into implementation, a daunting challenge faced us. On one hand, we believed that the work that needed to be done was at the neighborhood level and would require an army of passionate, well-organized individuals. On the other hand, we were forming this view during one of the largest public worker staff reductions in San Francisco County history. In fact, over the past three years the programs that met their demise were often the ones that were community-level focused.
One day, while I was mulling over this predicament with fellow community advocates in City Hall, someone remarked that the way she came into the building was through an internship set up by the Institute of Community Civic Engagement (ICCE) at SF State and that I should go out to their offices and see how we could partner.
After a few phone calls, we presented to ICCE an early incarnation of the NEN. After an energized 45 minutes, they looked at us and said “So you’re saying that the City wants to develop an institutional partnership at the highest level to support communities as they take a leadership role in achieving their goals” We provided an emphatic “Yes!” They responded with, “Interesting, let us talk about this amongst ourselves and we’ll follow up with you.” Which is Academic for We’re pretty sure we’re in. We just need to process this data and make an informed decision.
A few weeks later, ICCE’s Director Jerry Eisman emailed me saying that he had dedicated much of his academic life to service learning in San Francisco’s neighborhoods and it had always been disappointing that the City seemed reluctant to partner more consistently with the academic community. In his capacity at SF State, he understood the assets that the school had to offer San Francisco’s residents, but that such assets needed to be connected with the policies and initiatives coming out of City Hall. If what I was proposing was real and had the buy-in of City Hall’s leadership, then this could be one of the most exciting partnerships not only in the Bay Area, but in the entire nation.
Jerry seemed to have been waiting for this day to arrive because he soon had a much more ambitious plan on the table. Sure, SF State was an amazing resource, but there were at least a half dozen other academic institutions active in San Francisco that should be brought in on the opportunity.
Leveraging his network of service learning professionals at UCSF and USF, Jerry convened a meeting early in 2009 and proposed that they form an coalition to leverage the tens of thousands of students and faculty and their institutions to create something that had never existed before: A platform that focuses local academic institutions assets to support communities to become more resilient.
That coalition is now called NENu.
Today, a charter developed over the last year holds NENu together. Its tenets focus on the values of service-learning and on the need for reciprocity in the communities that NENu serves.
Already, the coalition is engaging neighborhoods in collaboration with City agencies and elected officials all over San Francisco, often with a multi-year commitment in place.Â In some cases, schools have invested over $100,000 in soft assets with over 125 students in the field.
NENu has given San Francisco one of the most powerful and sophisticated resources ever created to engage communities in meaningful transformative work.
Perhaps one day I’ll hear someone at Philz Coffee say “San Francisco has never been a better place in which to live, it’s lucky to be a college town.”
Daniel Homsey is Director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network.
As a proud native San Franciscan, I always take the time to ask folks who have visited our great City what was their favorite part of their visit. Of course some mention seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and riding a Cable Car, but consistently they say that our amazing collection of unique neighborhoods was what they’ll always remember.
For many of us in the community space, we’re not surprised by this answer. It’s not hard to see why someone visiting the city wouldn’t marvel at how they can go from being in a classic Italian neighborhood one minute and suddenly be surrounded by authentic Chinese markets the next.
These great neighborhoods don’t just happen, they take years of work and dedication by residents who invest their valuable time to make these communities a success. It’s that effort that many of us call The Work. The Work is a vast collection of skills which involves everything from coalition building to expertise as to how City Hall operates.
While San Francisco is blessed with dozens of successful neighborhoods, there is an equal number that struggle everyday to meet the quality of life goals that they have for their residents.
The Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) is dedicated to helping these emerging communities achieve their goals. By developing a suite of tools, resources, and strategic partnerships for neighborhood stakeholders to leverage as they create safe, clean, healthy communities to live and work, the NEN hopes re-invent how we as a City collectively build and support sustainable communities.
Please visit the About Us page and learn more about our initiative and what we’re developing to help our partners achieve their goals.