Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On the Road with Chuck: Part II

Chuck Wehrwein
NeighborWorks America COO
When I arrive in DC, I know I’ll be getting lots of questions about why I left the beautiful Rocky Mountains for the city life, so I want to explain my reasons here. The truth is that it was no easy decision. I’ve been living in Colorado for over 11 years and my children have grown up there, so I would not be headed east if I weren’t strongly motivated to join the NeighborWorks team.

In fact, my enthusiasm is already high enough for others to take notice. The day before I left Denver, my wife and I were meeting with LeeAnne, our realtor. When LeeAnne asked me to explain what NeighborWorks is about and why I was leaving, I spent several minutes describing the organization, its members and the great work that takes place in communities across the nation. LeeAnne was immediately struck by the passion in my voice, and commented that she, too, felt inspired by our vision of building strong, vibrant communities.
Pagedale Senior Housing was built across from
a Save-a-Lot grocery as part of the 24:1 initiative

I found a great example of this work in St. Louis last Friday. I met with Beyond Housing’s leader, Chris Krehmeyer. We talked a little bit about his experiences as a NeighborWorks organization and he showed me a small sample of the economic development projects and housing they’ve been building in the inner ring suburbs of St. Louis as part of a program called 24:1. This initiative has three main goals: strong communities, engaged families and successful children and it is addresses each goal by really integrating the various elements of community – from district schools to housing for the elderly to a new grocery store making fresh produce more available to residents.

Great work like this is inspiring and is indicative of why I am so pleased to be taking on my new role as COO. I’m looking forward to meeting with and hearing from more of our members in the coming weeks as we begin to formulate, together, how we can better develop responses to the myriad needs and opportunities in our communities across the country.

Friday, May 25, 2012

On the Road with Chuck: Part I

Chuck Wehrwein
NeighborWorks America COO
My name is Chuck Werhwein and I’m looking forward to being the next Chief Operating Officer for NeighborWorks America. In my new position, I will be overseeing activities in communities all over the US, so I’ve decided to make my journey to DC reflect that; I’m making a road trip from Denver, Colorado to Washington, D.C., and stopping to meet NeighborWorks staff and network members along the way.

Denver Convention Center’s
Blue Bear (Creative Commons)
Although I’ve been in the community development field for over 20 years (bio here), there is always more to learn. My goal is to make my first few months a time for listening. Right now, I’m most interested in answering one big question: “How can we accelerate community change in times of constrained resources?”

I jump-started my trip in Denver at the Rocky Mountain District office, followed by a visit many miles later with Midwest Regional Director John Santner and his team in Kansas City over delicious local BBQ.

Kansas City BBQ (Creative Commons)
In both places, I was struck by the breadth of our staff’s experience and their deep commitment to residents and members. Their diverse backgrounds and extensive knowledge are extremely valuable resources, critical to our corporation’s ability to deliver much-needed community services with limited staff and budgets. I left Kansas City with a real sense of optimism about our ability to work as partners while tackling the challenges that lie ahead.

My next stop is St. Louis, Missouri, where I’ll meet with Beyond Housing’s Executive Director Chris Krehemyer and gain the perspective of a network member. In the meantime, I’ll be reflecting on what I’ve learned and brainstorming ideas for the future.

Friday, May 18, 2012

One Year Later: NeighborWorks and Post-Disaster Community Rebuilding

The tornadoes were powerful enough to  not
not only destroy homes but also buildings.
On April 27, 2011, a swath of tornadoes devastated communities across the southeast, resulting in 324 tornado-related deaths across six states. Recently, a NeighborWorks America team spent three days touring a number of affected communities. The visit bore witness to the rebuilding efforts being carried out by local NeighborWorks organizations.

At the invitation of NeighborWorks network member, Community Action Partnership (The Partnership), Congressman Robert Aderholt (Alabama - 4th district) joined the group as it toured sites in his district. “As we remember one-year ago today, my thoughts and prayers are with all those that were affected by the devastating storms that ripped through our state and changed our lives forever,” said Congressman Aderholt. “However the damage, destruction and loss of life that was suffered on April 27, 2011, did not break us...In the wake of such devastation, we came together. The unprecedented storms brought unprecedented coordination between first responders and emergency teams, elected officials and government agencies, and countless relief and faith-based organizations. There were neighbors helping neighbors and oftentimes strangers helping strangers.”

Opening of Housing Resource Center in Phil Campbell, Alabama. (l-r) Relationship Manager Dollie Whittle, Director of Field Operations Robert Burns, The Partnership’s Chief Outcomes Officer Jack Green, Congressman Robert Aderholt and son Robert Hayes, and The Partnership’s Executive Director Mike Tubbs.
NeighborWorks America, through its Southern District, based in Atlanta, has facilitated the development of a comprehensive collaborative service delivery strategy for Alabama that reflected shared goals and incorporated the strengths of key network members. “Faced with a challenging economy and the recent disasters, the NeighborWorks network members thought it was necessary to work collaboratively to provide needed services to communities across the state,” said District Director Donald Phoenix. “The key was to help organizations rally around common challenges and capitalize on each other’s strengths to create market-driven solutions for Alabama residents in need.”

The NeighborWorks organizations helping Alabama communities recover include The Partnership, Neighborhood Housing Services of Birmingham (NHSB), Community Service Programs (CSP), and the Kentucky-based network member Fahe (also known as the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises).

New homeowner Kim Cole is flanked by
Jack Green, the Partnership and
Congressman Aderholt
In the aftermath of the disaster, CSP’s executive director Cynthia Burton explained that she used funding from NeighborWorks America to provide medical care, gas cards and, in one location, a grocery and resource store for residents.

In West Liberty, Kentucky, 73 businesses were destroyed and more than 400 homes were ruined or made uninhabitable. FAHE is using $50,000 from NeighborWorks America to cover expenses related to food, water, temporary shelter and home restoration.

John Colon, executive director of NHSB, is currently focused on constructing houses that offer additional protection and savings opportunity for residents. “NHSB plans to build two single-family, energy-efficient homes utilizing some of the best building technologies available today,” he said. “In addition to energy efficiency, each home will feature resistance against stronger winds and an underground storm shelter for greater protection."

This forward thinking approach is characteristic of NeighborWorks efforts in post-disaster areas. In our last fiscal year, NeighborWorks America made more than $1.7 million in grants to NeighborWorks organizations assisting in recovery from tornadoes and hurricanes, and we continue to support long-term rebuilding efforts in Gulf communities seven years after Hurricane Katrina.

To read the incredible stories about disaster survival and recovery in Alabama, download this presentation.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Inspiration from New Orleans

Photo of author Alexandra Chaikin
By Alexandra Chaikin,
Online Media Project Manager
For the past four days I’ve been very lucky. I have been working in the vibrant, complex city of New Orleans at the NeighborWorks Training Institute, meeting many of the people who make positive social and economic change possible in communities across this country.

Every day I’ve heard new stories of success and transformation – turning superfund sites into urban gardens, empowering residents to build anew after Katrina, partnering with banks to stem foreclosures, the list could go on. What’s been most striking to me is the accumulated knowledge of the conference attendees and their willingness to share that knowledge, and receive knowledge from others, in service of the greater good.

I also saw with clarity the importance of NeighborWorks training division staff in making this exchange of ideas possible. I believe passionately in the value of online media (hence my title!), but it is the in-person conversations that often inspire new or improved courses of action. I applaud our staff for their work behind the scenes organizing the classes and meetings in a way that enabled these discussions.

For those of you who could not attend, or who want a quick reference for inspiration, here were some of my favorite quotes and photos:

Photo by Chad Klawetter via Instagram
“Our city is not in a rebuilding phase; it is in an opportunity phase.”
–Brian Lawlor, director of housing policy, City of New Orleans at resident leadership symposium

 “The Community Building and Organizing program has already surpassed its goal of developing 7000 resident leaders.”
–Eileen Fitzgerald, CEO of NeighborWorksAmerica at CB&O dinner

“The challenge is to constantly expand ordinary people's self confidence.”
–Marie Kennedy, keynote speaker at resident leadership symposium

The photo and quotes were submitted via Twitter. You can see more on our Storify page. You can also visit the Leaders for Communities site for materials and discussion related to the May 9 symposium on resident leadership. To learn about all of NeighborWorks' efforts in the Gulf, visit our website.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Getting Out the Vote for Starbucks' Vote.Give.Grow.

Photo of author Alexandra Chaikin
By Alexandra Chaikin,
Online Media Project Manager
As you may have seen on our NeighborWorks Twitter and Facebook pages, we are pretty excited about the results of the Starbucks Foundation Vote.Give.Grow. contest. Nine NeighborWorks organizations participated, and they raised a combined total of $125,000. Not too shabby.

First, a little background. Vote.Give.Grow. is a new initiative which allowed Starbucks cardholders to vote every week on how the foundation should allocate funds among 124 nonprofits nationwide. The best part? Every nonprofit selected for the contest is guaranteed to win at least $5000! That said, the object is to get the most votes, because more votes could mean thousands more dollars – up to $50,000 to be exact.

To find out how our network members succeeded in getting out the vote, I interviewed Matt Miller, communications and marketing director of Community Housing Initiatives (CHI) in Iowa. Matt explained that Starbucks first contacted them in March about the April contest. At first, they thought it was too good to be true, but, after doing their due diligence, they realized the magnitude of this opportunity. However, there was a big challenge, namely a competing nonprofit in Iowa with more than eight times the number of employees.

Starbucks Vote.Give.Grow. coasterMatt, being the entrepreneur he is, went straight to the local Starbucks and worked with the store managers to hand out the Vote.Give.Grow. coasters he’d received from Starbucks Foundation (see image at right). Next, he did the same thing at libraries and the local hospitals. Then he jumped into digital media with a weekly email campaign and a big sign on CHI’s website.  His favorite marketing tool though? Social media. Twitter and Facebook allowed him to easily spread the word to local government and other nonprofits. CHI even made their main Facebook image include information about the contest.

In the end Matt helped CHI win first place in Iowa and a grant of $15,000, which they will use to fund an Eviction Prevention Program this summer. I haven’t had a chance to learn how all our other member organizations will use their funds, but I’m confident they will use them wisely, and I hope they will share their stories too. Feel free to send me an update at achaikin[at] or to post directly to the NeighborWorks America Facebook page.