The final post in a three-part series on The Fairfield County Community Foundation's efforts to improve the lives of families in Connecticut.
PT Partners was built on the conviction that public housing residents can and should be the drivers of positive, sustainable change in their community and throughout the planning and implementation of the initiative residents have played a critical role in shaping the project.
The partners have engaged and listened to residents in several ways. In the early planning stages, the planning partners conducted focus groups with residents to identify and prioritize the key issues facing P.T. Barnum families. During this same time period, two of the PT Partners, the Housing Authority and Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition worked together to develop a resident advocacy training course. The course teaches participants how to gather facts, reach out to elected officials and give public testimony. Classes end with an opportunity for each participant to present mock testimony.
Last year, The Yale Consultation Center joined as a partner and provided a pro bono community readiness assessment using a tool developed by the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research. During this assessment process, residents were co-researchers, working side by side with planning partners and the Yale researcher to define the issue, customize the research tool, identify the stakeholders to be interviewed, analyze the results, and identify next steps. The assessment provided an indication of the community’s readiness to make change around a key issue, which residents defined as transforming P.T. Barnum into a community of opportunity. The results of the assessment provide a roadmap for driving community change based on the community’s stage of readiness. It also gave the partners experience with a process that can be used on an ongoing basis to meaningfully engage residents in the identification of issues and solutions.
In the many resident focus groups and interviews we have conducted thus far, residents have very clearly identified safety as the highest priority issue and the biggest barrier to success. In our early conversations, we understood safety to mean safety from vandalism, mischief, crime, and violence. Data would support this concern. As conversations have continued, however, we have learned that safety has a much more complex and nuanced meaning for residents.
From what we have learned through our conversations with residents of P.T. Barnum, we now know that, for them, safety means housing authority policies, practices, and actions that are clear, consistent, predictable and fair; so that residents understand why and when they could be subject to punitive actions. Safety means having a home that is free from pests and hazards. Safety means sending their children to schools that respect them as parents and show their children that same respect. Safety means that all the institutions with which they interact treat them with empathy and respect.
It has been clear from our conversations that this is where our work starts. Developing the willingness and readiness of residents to help transform P.T. Barnum from a community of disadvantage to a community of opportunity requires re-building individual relationships and trust. Every resident has both needs and a story to tell. The story is not just about their situational hardships, but also their experience of feeling systemically devalued as a person. To shift the community dynamic, PT Partners must begin by influencing the individual attitudes and behaviors that shape communities and systems.
Nancy von Euler joined the Fairfield County Community Foundation in April 2008 and serves as Program Director for Economic Opportunity and Health and Human Services. Ms. von Euler holds a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Vassar College and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University. Find her at @nancyvone.