Why We Host the Congressional City Conference in March

DC neighborhoodColorful rowhouses near the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C. (Getty Images)

We host our annual Congressional City Conference in March for a number of reasons. Most importantly, March is when Congressional action begins to take place. Before March, new members are likely to still be figuring out the ropes; after March, you’ll find that many other people will be competing for your representative’s time. So we’ve planned the conference with a specific strategy in mind: maximizing the return on your advocacy efforts, and enabling you to get in on the ground floor and advocate for your city while your legislators are all ears.

As a serendipitous bonus, March also happens to be a great time to visit Washington, D.C. You know that the District is home to the three pillars of federal government, and you may have visited many of our marble-clad monuments before – but there’s a city beyond the tourist brochures and textbooks, and spring is the ideal season to discover all that the nation’s capital has to offer. Although we’ll be keeping you busy during the conference, we encourage you to take some time before or after to explore both the grandeur and the grittiness of our city.

On a pleasant day, the National Mall is a delightful place to take a tree-lined stroll or a break for lunch on one of the park benches. And if you haven’t visited the Smithsonian museums along the Mall since high school, this is your chance to take advantage of a walkable strip of artworks and historical artifacts. As you make your way along this historic pathway lined with cherry trees and budding tulip flowers, stop inside the museums and you’ll find everything from cursed diamonds and movie props to nuclear missiles and other military relics. You may even stumble upon some of the personal belongings of our nation’s forefathers.

D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood

D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood is known for its restaurants, eclectic shops and nightlife. (Getty Images)

Want to get to know the real D.C.? You won’t need to travel far from your hotel. Located in the Northwest quadrant of the city, the Marriott Wardman Park is situated between two distinct neighborhoods – one elegant, and one eccentric. Head north to the residential neighborhood of Cleveland Park, and you’ll find stately old manors and the occasional bookstore or coffee shop. Head south to Adams Morgan, and discover your new favorite cuisine as you explore a hodgepodge of funky bars, mural-splashed walls, ethnic eateries, and quirky shops crammed with off-beat art. Between these two neighborhoods, you’ll experience two sides of the city that you won’t see on TV or read about in most guidebooks.

In the end, you’ll find that Washington, D.C. is a diverse city full of hidden gems – for more suggestions, check out these NLC staff recommendations!

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more creative clothing.

Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative: Connecting Kids to Nature and History

Two developments last week provide opportunities for cities to connect young people to the outdoors and to local history.

Every Kid in a Park initiativeThe President’s new Every Kid in a Park initiative will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to our national parks. (Getty Images)

For some children, spending time outdoors isn’t as easy as it should be. In many communities, safety concerns and a lack of access to parks and green space hinder young people from spending quality time outside. This, coupled with a national screen time average of 7½ hours a day (seven days a week) among eight to eighteen year olds, has contributed to an increasingly indoor and sedentary lifestyle for many young people.

Last week, President Obama announced a new initiative, dubbed Every Kid in a Park. This initiative will provide all fourth-grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands for a year beginning in September 2015. It’s an important step to providing needed access to the outdoors and ensuring that kids across the country have the opportunity to visit America’s national parks and landmarks. President Obama also requested new funding in his FY 2016 Budget to support transportation for school outings to parks for students from low-income areas.

In line with the Administration’s new initiative, NLC is partnering with the Children & Nature Network on the Cities Promoting Access to Nature initiative. This new, three-year project will help city leaders develop and expand strategies for getting more young people outdoors and connected to parks, green space and natural areas, with a focus on children and youth in economically stressed communities.

New National Monuments
Along with the Every Kid in a Park Initiative, the President announced that he is designating three new national monuments, including the Pullman National Monument in Chicago. “What makes Pullman special is the role it plays in our history,” President Obama said on a recent trip to Chicago, where he designated the factory district a national monument. “This place has been a milestone in our journey toward a more perfect union.”

The Pullman District was America’s first planned industrial town, created in the 1880s to house railroad and factory workers. Many of the jobs in the Pullman district went to African Americans, and the site became a symbol of economic opportunity for African Americans and other minority groups. The area was also where the seeds for the modern labor rights movement were planted. In 1894, workers organized a strike after railroad mogul George Pullman refused to lower rents when he lowered wages.

The designation of Pullman as a national monument means that fourth-graders and their families in Chicago, and from cities and towns across the country, will have the opportunity to visit the site (at no charge) and learn about our nation’s rich labor and civil rights history.

EmilyAbout the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

LED Street Lights: Energy Savings Likely to Outweigh Initial Costs for These Three Cities

LED streetlights on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in MinnesotaLED streetlights, such as those found on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., can provide better visibility while reducing emissions and cutting cities’ energy bills by more than 60%. (Joe Ferrer/Getty Images)

Nearly every boulevard, avenue, road or side street in America is lined with opportunities to reduce energy consumption and save important municipal dollars. Street lights in the United States are estimated to use as much energy as six million households, and the energy bills cost local governments more than $10 billion per year.

Due to recent advances of LED and other solid state lighting options, modern streetlights have the potential to cut those figures by 50% or more.

This is why the Obama Administration has challenged mayors around the country to retrofit their lights and install modern, high efficiency lighting. The Presidential Challenge for Advanced Outdoor Lighting sets a goal of upgrading at least 1.5 million poles by May 2016, tripling the previous goal to upgrade 500,000.

The challenge is backed by extensive resources in the Better Buildings Outdoor Lighting Accelerator, which contains financial calculators, case studies, and more. The Solid State Street Lighting Consortium, a DOE-managed peer group of cities pursuing lighting upgrades, also has technical specifications and market reports to help cities through the procurement process.

Thanks to early adopters like Raleigh, Los Angeles and Seattle, many of the concerns surrounding technical issues and public acceptance have been debunked in the last few years, illuminating the path for others to follow. Costs for both energy use and maintenance have proven lower under the new systems. In surveys conducted for the city of Seattle, more than 85% of respondents approved of the new lights.

For many city leaders, though, the decision isn’t quite that clear. As with any major retrofit, the upfront capital cost can be daunting. Los Angeles, for example, has replaced more than 140,000 lights in four years, yielding an annual savings of more than 60%. Even with a payback period estimated at just seven years, the initial cost has been reported to be $57 million. Given the constraints on local budgets, it can be difficult to justify a costly upgrade for a system that is already functioning.

Additionally, some city officials may be waiting to see if those installation costs continue to drop before they convert. Between 2011 and 2013, the cost of new LED streetlights fell an estimated 50%. Even then, the price was four times that of high-pressure sodium lights. In the short term, waiting may result in further savings and an even more efficient LED product.

Nonetheless, the takeaway is overwhelmingly positive. A tipping point seems to have been reached as the rate of adoption accelerates. If the President’s challenge is met, and the 1.5 million poles achieve the same efficiency and CO2 reductions as Los Angeles, it will create a reduction of more than 369,000 tons of emissions each year.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Mayors’ Challenge Seeks to Create Safer Walking and Bicycling Networks

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx issued the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists over the next year.

Bike lanesMayors who commit to creating safer, more connected walking and bicycling networks in their cities will be invited to attend the Mayors’ Summit for Safer People, Safer Streets on March 12 in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, including 80 percent of Americans. The increase in the number of city dwellers in the U.S. correlates with an increase in the number of people using non-motorized forms of transportation, such as walking and bicycling, to move around their communities. However, this increase in healthy and environmentally friendly travel modes has a significant downside – pedestrian and bicycle injuries and fatalities have steadily increased since 2009.

Elected officials at the local, state and federal level recognize the need to create safer, more connected walking and bicycling networks. As part of the Safer People, Safer Streets initiative, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued a challenge to mayors and other local elected officials to create safer walking and bicycling options for their residents. He challenged city leaders to undertake seven activities over the next year to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and abilities. Over 90 cities have already joined the challenge.

Many mayors, city councilmembers and other local elected officials are already making changes to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. In Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael B. Coleman and the city council adopted the Safe Streets Ordinance, which includes provisions that clarify that bicyclists are protected under the law from being “doored” by motorists, and specify that motor vehicles must allow a minimum of three feet when passing bicycles.

Cyclobia Brownsville 1

City streets are closed to vehicles during CycloBia Brownsville. (photo credit: City of Brownsville, Texas)

In Brownsville, Texas, City Commissioner Rose Gowen and other city leaders have adopted an Open Streets approach; through CycloBia Brownsville the city closes some public streets during designated times so residents can safely use city streets for walking, bicycling and other recreational activities.

Mick Cornett, mayor of Oklahoma City, Okla., is leading an effort to consciously redesign and rebuild the city’s streetscapes with millennials in mind, many of whom are less likely to have a driver’s license and more likely to walk, bike and use public transportation.

NLC, through Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties has helped cities implement strategies such as Complete Streets, Safe Routes to School and Open Streets to improve the design and use of streets for pedestrians and cyclists. To date, more than 200 cities and counties are using such strategies to enhance opportunities for residents who walk and bike to school, to work and just for fun.

To make your city safer and easier to navigate for pedestrians and bicyclists, sign up for the Safer People, Safer Streets Mayors’ Challenge today! When you sign up, let us know on Twitter by using the hashtag #mayors4safety.

About the Author: Tracy Wiedt is the Program Manager for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at the National League of Cities.

Cities Can Still Help Children and Families Get Health Insurance

“It doesn’t matter why people don’t have insurance; what matters is that we help them get it.”
-Valerie McDonald Roberts, City of Pittsburgh

<> on July 20, 2010 in New York, New York. (Getty Images)

Although the 2015 deadline to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Marketplace has passed, there are still ways for children and families to get covered. Depending on household size and income, children and families may qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and enrollment for both programs is available 365 days a year.

Medicaid and CHIP provide free or low-cost benefits to eligible families, including:

  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospital services
  • Screenings and preventative services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Immunizations
  • Mental health services

For the last two years, NLC has been working with local leaders to connect families to these important public health insurance programs through our Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative. Cities have a vested interest in expanding coverage for children and families. When families have health insurance, the burden on hospital emergency rooms is reduced, families avoid the sky-high medical debt that often results in a financial crisis and children are healthier, which means parents take less time off of work to care for sick kids.

The eight cities participating in CEHACF are implementing a variety of effective strategies to get eligible children and families in their communities enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. These include working with community organizations to coordinate citywide outreach events, conducting targeted outreach, e.g., school-based outreach and training city staff to provide one-on-one enrollment assistance. These cities are working to improve access to coverage for their residents because they know that having health coverage improves the quality of life for families and provides a level of economic and emotional security that families not only need, but deserve.

As Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief Urban Affairs Officer for Mayor Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh noted in her recent op-ed, “When you find yourself telling your children that they can’t break an arm or a finger not only because it will hurt or take a long time to heal, but also because you can’t afford to take them to the hospital, you feel vulnerable.” With Medicaid and CHIP, no family needs to feel vulnerable.

The bottom line, as McDonald Roberts aptly puts it, is that “when you visit the doctor, the people at the front desk don’t care who issued your insurance card. They just want to see that you have one.”

What is your city doing to promote Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Let us know by contacting Dawn Schluckebier at schluckebier@nlc.org.

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot
About the Author:
Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.

Open Data Is Finally Making A Dent In Cities

This post originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Exist blog.

Chicago-StOpen data can help you find your lost dog, make your commute more efficient, and make government more transparent – if cities will let it. (Getty Images)

What is the best way to get from 12th Street to Main, and should I take the subway, a bike, or rideshare? How many lobbyists are there in my city and more importantly, what are they doing? And, by the way, where did my dog go?

All of these questions and more can now be answered in cities as a result of open data. Beyond just its functional use for an increasingly app-dependent society, data collection and analysis is powering and redefining how we think about ourselves and how we interact with others, in almost every part of life. From who we date, to who we share our commute with to work, a whole new world is being created through access to useful, usable information.

As with a range of leading issues, cities are at the vanguard of this shifting environment. Through increased measurement, analysis, and engagement, open data will further solidify the centrality of cities.

In Chicago, the voice of the mayor counts for a lot. And Mayor Emmanuel has been at the forefront in supporting and encouraging open data in the city, resulting in a strong open government community. The city has more than 600 datasets online, and has seen millions of page views on its data portal. The public benefits have accrued widely with civic initiatives like Chicagolobbyists.org, as well as with a myriad of other open data led endeavors.

Transparency is one of the great promises of open data. Petitioning the government is a fundamental tenet of democracy and many government relations’ professionals perform this task brilliantly. At the same time that transparency is good for the city, it’s good for citizens and democracy. Through the advent of Chicagolobbyists.org, anyone can now see how many lobbyists are in the city, how much they are spending, who they are talking to, and when it is happening.

Throughout the country, we are seeing data driven sites and apps like this that engage citizens, enhance services, and provide a rich understanding of government operations In Austin, a grassroots movement has formed with advocacy organization Open Austin. Through hackathons and other opportunities, citizens are getting involved, services are improving, and businesses are being built.

Data can even find your dog, reducing the number of stray animals being sheltered, with Stray Mapper. The site has a simple map-based web portal where you can type in whether you are missing a dog or cat, when you lost them, and where. That information is then plugged into the data being collected by the city on stray animals. This project, developed by a Code for America brigade team, helps the city improve its rate of returning pets to owners.

It’s not only animals that get lost or at least can’t find the best way home. I’ve found myself in that situation too. Thanks to Ridescout, incubated in Washington, D.C., at 1776, I have been able to easily find the best way home. Through the use of open data available from both cities and the Department of Transportation, Ridescout created an app that is an intuitive mobility tool. By showing me all of the available options from transit to ridesharing to my own two feet, it frequently helps me get from place to place in the city. It looks like it wasn’t just me that found this app to be handy; Daimler recently acquired Ridescout as the auto giant continues its own expansion into the data driven mobility space.

We are a data driven society, from the private sector where consumer data drives the bottom line to the public sector where more and more outputs are being quantified and analyzed. New businesses are being created and existing firms are growing as companies use open data to build products that improve the lives of people living in and visiting cities. In whatever city you are in, data is a tool to make lives easier, create more robust two-way communications between the governing and governed, and increase and improve commerce.

In the National League of Cities’ newly released report, City Open Data Policies: Learning by Doing, we sought to find out what cities are currently doing with open data and what they could be doing far into the future. Working together with our partners at American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, this publication is a resource for cities developing open data policies.

By opening data, cities are developing an unprecedented portal into the operations and functioning of government for the use of and to the benefit of community members, the private sector, and open government advocates. Enhanced data analysis and increased open data availability also allows us to envision a future where city services are radically transformed, leading toward a seamlessness of operations from city government to resident delivery. This forward momentum further reinforces that data has become the infrastructural backbone in the century of the city.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the author:Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Don’t Ask, Do Tell: NLC Joins SCOTUS Amicus Brief in Religious Accommodation Case

religious head scarfDo you think employers should ask job applicants about the clothing they might wear for religious reasons? Or should applicants disclose their religious accommodation needs without being asked? (Getty Images)

Traditional HR policy practices hold that employers shouldn’t ask prospective employees about protected characteristics such as age, sex, race, national origin, religion, etc. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently decided that if an employer thinks an employee may need a religious accommodation, then the employer must ask about his or her religion. Is the EEOC’s new view correct?

That is what the Supreme Court will decide in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores. Who must ask about the need for a religious accommodation, the employer or the employee/applicant? The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues the employee/applicant should ask.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Look Policy” prohibits headwear, requiring employees on the sales floor to wear clothing consistent with what Abercrombie sells in it stores. Samantha Elauf wore a head scarf to an interview at Abercrombie, but she didn’t ask for a religious accommodation. Rather than asking, her interviewer assumed Ms. Elauf was Muslim and wore the headscarf for religious reasons. Ms. Elauf was ultimately not hired because of the headscarf. The EEOC subsequently sued Abercrombie, alleging it violated Title VII by failing to accommodate Ms. Elauf’s religious beliefs. At trial, the EEOC’s expert testified that some women wear headscarves for cultural rather than religious reasons.

The Tenth Circuit ultimately held in favor of Abercrombie, finding that an applicant/employee “ordinarily must establish that he or she initially informed the employer that [he or she] adheres to a particular practice for religious reasons, and that he or she needs an accommodation for that practice” – steps which Ms. Elauf did not take.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that the applicant/employee should have to notify the employer of the need for a religious accommodation. After all, that had been the EEOC’s position until this particular case. A contrary position requires employers to make assumptions based on stereotypes about the physical characteristics that could indicate a person might practice a particular religion. Requiring employers to ask about an employee’s religion to avoid a failure to accommodate claim may lead to employers being liable for a disparate treatment claim. EEOC guidance says that an employer asking about a protected characteristic like religion may be used as evidence of discrimination in a disparate treatment case. And public employers don’t want to ask an applicant/employer about religion to avoid violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Amanda Kellar and Chuck Thompson of the International Municipal Lawyers Association wrote the SLLC’s brief, which was joined by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the National School Boards Association.

If Title VII stands for anything, it is that employers should not stereotype employees based on protected characteristics. Had Abercrombie & Fitch asked Ms. Elauf if she was a Muslim, they would have been doing just that: assuming that all women who wear headscarves do so for religious reasons.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Supreme Court Rules Correctional Institutions Must Allow Half Inch Beards for Religious Reasons

religious beardThe Supreme Court’s opinion in Holt v. Hobbs communicated a rather pragmatic view of the prison security risks created by short beards – namely, that the beards aren’t much of a risk at all given that they are not an ideal place to hide contraband. (Getty Images)

To the casual Supreme Court watcher, Holt v. Hobbs will probably be known and remembered more for John Oliver’s brilliant rendition of the oral argument featuring dogs posed as Supreme Court Justices, rather than what the Court held. But for Gregory Holt and other inmates who have been not been allowed to grow half inch beards, it is the holding they will remember.

The Supreme Court held unanimously that an inmate’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Rights Act (RLUIPA) were violated when he was not allowed to grow a half inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Cities, take note – this case will affect correctional institutions with no-beard policies and may provide lower court’s guidance in evaluating RLUIPA claims in the corrections and land use context.

Arkansas Department of Corrections (the Department) grooming policy prohibits inmates who do not have a particular dermatological condition from growing beards. Gregory Holt’s request to grow a half inch beard in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs was denied.

RLUIPA states that the government may not substantially burden the free exercise of an institutionalized person unless the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. The Eighth Circuit held that the Department satisfied its burden of showing that the no beards policy was the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling security interests.

The Court, in an opinion written by Justice Alito, first concluded the lower court made three errors in concluding that the grooming policy didn’t substantially burden Mr. Holt’s religion. That he had other means of practicing his religion, that he was “credited” by his religion for attempting to follow his beliefs, and that not all Muslims believe men must grow beards were all facts that do not matter in a RLUIPA analysis.

While the Court agreed that preventing the flow of contraband in it facilities and preventing prisoners from disguising their identities are compelling state interests, it concluded that disallowing half inch beards isn’t the least restrictive means of furthering prison safety and security. The Court described the Department’s concern that prisoners may hide contraband in their beards as “hard to take seriously.” Only small items could be concealed, inmates could more easily conceal items in head hair, and beards can be searched. Photographing an inmate with and without a beard would solve the problem of an inmate changing his appearance to enter restricted areas, escape, or evade apprehension upon escaping. And the fact that the Department allows inmates to grow mustaches, head hair, and quarter inch beards for medical reasons – all of which could be shaved off “at a moment’s notice” – indicates that security concerns raised by quickly changing appearance are not “serious.”

Also critical to the Court’s analysis was the fact that most states and the federal government allow inmates to grow half inch beards for any reason.

The Court’s opinion in this case was partially a critique of the lower court opinions, which seemed to gloss over the requirements of RLUIPA rather than carefully apply them, and partially a pragmatic view of security risks created by short beards: “Hair on the head is a more plausible place to hide contraband than a ½ inch beard—and the same is true of an inmate’s clothing and shoes. Nevertheless, the Department does not require inmates to go about bald, barefoot, or naked.”

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

We Helped U.S. Communities Give 500 Backpacks to These Students in Need

The National League of Cities was represented at the recent U.S. Communities annual meeting and charity event by David Maloney, Program Manager, Strategic Partnerships and Emma Lieberth, Program Manager, Strategic Partnerships. U.S. Communities is the only national purchasing cooperative sponsored by NLC, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and more than 70 state level organizations, including 29 state municipal leagues. For more information, visit uscommunities.org.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Communities website and was republished with permission.

Fresno Unified School District photo

NLC helped U.S. Communities stuff 500 backpacks for students in need(top) Students from the Fresno Unified School District. (photo courtesy of the Fresno Unified School District)
(bottom) Paul Rosencrans of the Fresno Unified School District stands among the 500 backpacks NLC staff helped fill for students in need. (photo courtesy of U.S. Communities)

U.S. Communities, the leading national government and education purchasing cooperative, encouraged philanthropy by raising awareness for underprivileged students during its 2015 Annual Planning Meeting with staff, national sponsors, suppliers and Advisory Board members. Our second annual backpack charity event filled the hearts of all who participated and brought smiles to the students who received the donations. This year’s recipient was the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD).

Fresno, Calif., has the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness in the country, according to 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Fresno Unified School District is the 4th largest school district in California, serving more than 73,000 students. Fresno Unified is committed to providing students with the greatest number of opportunities to boost student achievement. U.S. Communities recognized an opportunity to make a difference in this community and asked Paul Rosencrans, U.S. Communities Advisory Board member and Executive Director of Purchasing for Fresno Unified School District, to identify schools with the highest-need students.

Fresno Unified has a program called Project ACCESS (Achievement in Core Curriculum for Equity and Student Success) which oversees the enrollment of all homeless families into the school district. FUSD Project ACCESS/HHI Manager Nancy Horn explains, “This year, in the first semester alone, we enrolled 465 new homeless students in grades K through 12. It is such a joy to present a child with a backpack filled with school supplies. Students immediately put them on, and a smile creeps across their face. Many times, they don’t have anything that is their own because of being locked out due to eviction or being kicked out of a home they were sharing, so this gift can mean so much.” Throughout the year, Fresno Unified works to help needy students with what they need to be successful in school and at their “home for homework.“ At this point, we are out of backpacks – so your donation is coming at a perfect time,” says Nancy.

Following dinner on the first day of the meeting, volunteers formed assembly lines to fill each backpack with everything from pencils and water bottles to pocket folders, rulers and calculators. As the volunteers filled 500 backpacks with school supplies, inspirational notes were written to each student to let them know they were receiving these backpacks because we care. Paul Rosencrans was honored to accept these backpacks on behalf of Fresno Unified School District, and rented a truck to drive the large donation back to Fresno. “As I drive this rental truck filled with backpacks and supplies from San Diego to Fresno, I plan to take some time of reflection to be grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and what this means for each student that will receive their own backpack,” Paul said, as he also encouraged the audience to take some time to reflect on their own lives.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to give back this year with the help of our supplier partners and attendees who helped stuff each backpack. Their generosity showed a lot of heart, and we are proud to count them as part of the U.S. Communities family.” said Kevin Juhring, General Manager of U.S. Communities.

The 500 backpack donations were made possible by the generous donations from our supplier partners: Acro Service Corporation, Applied Industrial Technologies, BI, Inc., CARQUEST/Advance Professional, Cintas, Fisher Science Education, Gametime, Garland/DBS, Inc., Graybar, Haworth, HD Supply Facilities Maintenance, Herman Miller, Hertz Equipment Rental, The Home Depot, Independent Stationers, Insight Public Sector, KOMPAN, KONE, Kronos, Ricoh, ServiceWear Apparel and TAPCO.

Incarceration as Usual? The MacArthur Foundation Doesn’t Think So

Nearly 12 million people are sent to local jails every year – and 75 percent of those in jail are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property or public order violations.

MacArthur Foundation blog postThe number of people currently incarcerated in the United States is equal to the combined populations of Los Angeles and New York City. (Getty Images)

To reduce our nation’s over-reliance on the prison industrial complex, and to change the way Americans think about and use jails, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced the Safety and Justice Challenge. This is a five-year, $75 million investment to help cities and counties create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money and lead to better social outcomes.

Through the Challenge, the MacArthur Foundation will provide funding to jurisdictions to design and implement plans for creating fairer, more effective local justice systems using innovative, collaborative and evidence-based solutions.

The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education & Families is already working to help cities on juvenile justice reform to increase public safety and improve outcomes for youth. With support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change juvenile justice reform initiative, NLC is supporting city-led strategies that hold youth accountable for their actions in more effective, equitable and developmentally appropriate ways.

For more information and to learn how your city can be part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, read the MacArthur Foundation’s press release and download the request for proposals. Visit NLC’s website for more information on our work with cities to reform the juvenile justice system.

Emily
About the Author:
Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.