Impact-Volunteering Improves Literacy, Youth Success and Safety

This is a guest blog post by Marcia Hope Goodwin, and the second post in a multi-part series from NLC, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Cities of Service on the national and community service movement and its impact on cities and towns nationwide.

Orlando-ChildrenOrlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reads to children.

“I believe our plan is a progressive, resourceful and collaborative approach to impact-volunteering, helping address our pressing city needs through citizen service, while expanding volunteer opportunities in Orlando and increasing the spirit of volunteerism across our Central Florida region.” -Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

In 2010, the City of Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which enabled Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city’s first Chief Service Officer, Marcia Hope Goodwin, to coordinate a collaborative community engagement process to develop the city’s first high-impact service plan: Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Cities of Service: ORLANDO CARES.

Through stakeholder meetings and nonprofit partner feedback, Mayor Dyer and Ms. Hope Goodwin identified youth literacy, improved education, youth crime reduction, and community safety as the major challenges facing the city that could be addressed by engaging community members in impact-volunteering initiatives. More than 800 stakeholders and partners from all sectors of the community helped to create ORLANDO CARES and its initiatives. Since the plan’s launch in March 2011, Orlando has added programming based on Cities of Service Third Grade Reads  and Volunteer CPR blueprints to their initiative.

Orlando-GardenThe City of Orlando’s partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been an integral part of ORLANDO CARES’ success. CNCS has provided AmeriCorps VISTA members that have increased outcomes, built capacity and increased sustainability in all of our programs. To date, 25 National Service members, including AmeriCorps VISTAs and Public Allies, have served in ORLANDO CARES, giving their year of national service to our country through city government and our community partner organizations. Our current Cities of Service Coordinator, Hiba George, is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus who, completed a year of national service with ORLANDO CARES, and was subsequently hired by the city to coordinate the program.

The six ORLANDO CARES initiatives serve many age groups, ranging from preschool students to high-school students. These programs allow for a wide range of volunteer opportunities for citizens, businesses, corporations and organizations. Volunteers who have a green thumb may enjoy mentoring upper elementary students in The Garden, a program that provides a safe and constructive opportunity for youth to connect with nature. Professionals may choose to volunteer for PathFinders as career coaches for middle school students. If a volunteer prefers a one-on-one mentorship instead of a group dynamic, 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed offers an opportunity to tutor 1st or 2nd graders in vocabulary and/or reading fluency during an academic/school year.

Providing a variety of opportunities for volunteers enables us to engage more members of the Orlando community in meaningful ways. The volunteers who have given their time and dedication to ORLANDO CARES have a fantastic time doing so, as they build their social networks and increase their skill set, while making a tremendous impact! Each year the city hosts volunteer appreciation receptions, giving the Mayor, Chief Service Officer and staff a chance to thank the valued volunteers.

Orlando-School

Since 2011, more than 6,310 youth have been served in all of the programs and over 2,200 volunteers have been engaged. Through the Mayor’s leadership, the ORLANDO CARES initiative has engaged over 35 community partners and has been offered in 29 schools and 13 community centers. Specific program details include:

  • Through the Preschool Ambassadors program, volunteers read aloud weekly to preschool students and engage families in early literacy activities. To date, more than 1,500 students and families have participated in reading more than 4,500 stories. 85% of participating families have enrolled their children in pre-kindergarten programs.
  • More than 1,800 youth have joined Mayor Buddy’s Book Club for middle school youth, committing to read one book every six weeks and complete book activities with encouragement from volunteers. 98% of participating students report that they have increased their leisure reading as a result of the program.
  • Youth participants in The Garden program have planted more than 550 container gardens. Participants also maintain outdoor garden plots, learn about healthy foods and explore careers in agriculture. 95% of the student participants report understanding the importance of fresh produce in their diets.
  • Volunteers that work in a variety of professional fields help middle school students in the PathFinders program to identify their interests, explore career options and create academic plans to support their goals. 100% of participating students have avoided school suspensions and have GPAs higher than 2.5.
  • 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed volunteers tutor first and second graders to improve their vocabulary and reading fluency. The weekly activities make reading fun and improve students’ academic performance through practice, encouragement and praise. Last school year, 100% of participating students increased their reading fluency and significantly improved their vocabulary.
  • Take Heart Orlando (Volunteer CPR), our community-wide Hands-Only CPR/AED initiative led by our partner, the Orlando Fire Department, provides a 30-minute training to city residents, businesses and organizations. Volunteers take action and save lives by registering and getting this lifesaving training. Volunteers assist as CPR trainers and pledge to train at least five others in Hands-Only CPR. More than 3,900 volunteers have already been trained since 2013.

As the City of Orlando continues to grow, service-involved citizens have become a significant part of the landscape of the city. Our ORLANDO CARES volunteers are positively impacting the education and safety of Orlando’s youth, their families and our entire community.

Through ORLANDO CARES, we are engaging volunteers in programs that help youth improve their academic success, increase their literacy skills, plan viable career choices and avoid the juvenile justice system, while improving the overall safety of our city. In our plan, we have created volunteer opportunities that impact educational outcomes and contribute to the safety of our community.  – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

For more information about ORLANDO CARES, please read our Orlando Cares service plan or visit our website.

Marcia-Goodwin-BlogAbout the author: Marcia Hope Goodwin is the City of Orlando’s Chief Service Officer and Director of the Office of Community Affairs and Human Relations. In 2010, when Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appointed Marcia to lead Orlando’s Cities of Service, Impact-Volunteering Plan, development and implementation. ORLANDO CARES, has successfully increased youth literacy and improved community safety.

Cities Focus on Action, Not Politics, To Tackle Climate Change

For many communities across the country, climate change isn’t a partisan debate; it’s a threat to their way of life.

park1200Saint Paul, Minn.

The United Nations put climate change on the top of its agenda this week, inviting leaders from 125 countries to a special summit focused on spurring international action. President Obama in a speech Tuesday spoke with urgency, telling Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leaders from U.N. member states that climate change “will define the contours of this century more than any other [issue].”

The voices of international leaders are the second prominent call to action this week – in a historic show of support, 400,000 marched for climate action on Sunday in New York City. Stretching at times more than 4 miles, demonstrators representing the scientific community, religious and civic organizations, among others carried banners while uniting their voices under a call for “action now.”

For climate researchers, fears that this all may be too little too late casts a shadow on what many see as progress on a long stalled agenda. Leading scientists with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been reported as saying we are dangerously close to no longer being able to limit global warming below 3.6° F – a critical threshold.

coleman

Mayor Chris Coleman speaks at the convening.

But for leaders at the local level – the ones that deal with the all too real effects of a warming climate – inaction is simply not an option. City leaders including NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn., Deb Lewis, Mayor of Ashland, Wisc. and Marsha Rummel, Alder of Madison, Wisc. know that the stakes are simply too high.

For their communities, climate change threatens the ability to go ice fishing, to protect the grid from increasing ice storms, to safely play hockey on an outdoor rink or to protect their iconic ecology from invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer.

The very landscape upon which their economy, and their culture, is built is being threatened. Across the U.S., average temperatures have already increased by 1.3° F to 1.9° F since 1895 – last decade being the nation’s and the world’s hottest on record. Heavy downpours continue to increase nationally, while heat waves and winter storms have become more frequent and intense.

In Mayor Coleman’s state, Minnesota, the region has experienced a 2.0° F increase in temperature between 1900 and 2012; winter temperatures and overnight lows have increased faster than annual averages; more ice accumulates during winter; and the frost-free season has become 9 days longer – just to name a few.

Cities Tackle Climate Change

Over the course of the Midwest Regional Convening on Climate Resilience that took place earlier this week in St. Paul, which was hosted by NLC in collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Communities and sponsored by Wells Fargo, despite the obvious challenges, the tone was remarkably solution focused.

“This crisis is at a critical period,” said Mayor Coleman during his keynote speech. “We are on the front lines—our residents are the most affected by the increasing severe weather that impacts us on a local, regional and global scale.”

panelMayor Peter Lindstrom (center) of Falcon Heights, Minn. speaks on a panel about climate challenges in the Midwest.

Cities from Minnesota and Wisconsin in attendance were invited to the workshop to develop strategies, promote discussion and strengthen engagement on the regional level. Over 60 participants from 12 different cities, many with populations less than 50,000, learned from regional and national experts and held discussions with their peers on building more resilient communities.

“This convening was about getting beyond the doom-and-gloom climate scenarios and the politics of the national climate debate,” said Cooper Martin, Program Director of NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute. “Gatherings like this allow city officials to focus on real economic, social and environmental challenges that cities within this region are grappling with today.”

Need for Federal Action

Though the focus of the event was regional, cities understand climate change exists within a national and global context. NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, addressed the city teams, speaking to how local leaders are influencing policy.

Last November, President Obama announced the creation of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the Administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide dealing with the impacts of climate change.

climatechangetaskMayor Ralph Becker (front row, second from right) participates on the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in Washington. Photo credit: Office of Gov. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii).

Made up of state, local and tribal leaders, the President’s Task Force was established to develop recommendations on ways the federal government can remove barriers to resilient investments, modernize federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts and develop the information and tools needed to prepare for climate change.

As a member of the taskforce, Mayor Becker gave his assurance that the federal government was listening to local concerns. Over 400 recommendations have been submitted by the local leaders calling for new programs, or reforms in existing programs to enable them to mitigate risk, engage their citizens and build more resilient communities.

Beyond Partisan Debates

For all in attendance, it was refreshing to be able to give climate change the attention it deserves – without focusing on the federal politics. The workshop’s participants particularly appreciated the opportunity to leave their daily responsibilities behind and spend time thinking strategically with colleagues.

At the end of the event, teams huddled with one another. Rather than taking on new responsibilities or additional work, many found ways to apply new strategies to work they were already doing.

“That’s the most encouraging part,” said Martin. “Participants saw that sustainability and resilience aren’t about doing more, but being more thoughtful and strategic with the time and resources you have.”

Tim-Mudd-IMGAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities.

 

A Mayor’s Pledge to Support Successful Aging

This is a guest post written by Paul H. Irving, President, Milken Institute.

BCSA-Logo

This month, the Milken Institute’s Best Cities for Successful Aging Advisory Committee will ask mayors across the nation to sign a pledge that promises to improve life for older adults and residents of all ages.

Cities are at the front lines in addressing the consequences of the rapid, unprecedented aging of populations in the United States and across the world. Enabling successful aging is a central issue for urban communities and municipal leaders. The Best Cities for Successful Aging Pledge unites mayors around a commitment to enhance life for the world’s largest-ever population of older adults and ensure a better future for our cities.

The Pledge acknowledges both great challenges and great opportunities for city leaders. In conjunction with the second edition of its often-cited report, “Best Cities for Successful Aging,” to be released later this year, the Milken Institute will recognize forward-thinking mayors who sign the Pledge and celebrate their efforts to promote purpose and well-being for their aging residents. The “Best Cities” report, which compares the nation’s metropolitan areas on data-driven criteria, receives wide attention in major national and local newspaper, television, radio and social media outlets.

As we initiate the Pledge, the stakes are clear. By 2030 one in five Americans will be over 65, most of them living in urban environments. Worldwide, this older age group by mid-century will outnumber children under 14, due in large measure to declining birthrates and expanding longevity resulting from medical, technical and public health advances.

In the United States, older adults increasingly concentrate in America’s urban settings, where we see the emergence of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs. These surroundings profoundly influence older residents’ ability to age well and enjoy healthy, engaged and fulfilling lives.

To improve lives through strengthened cities requires urban environments that are physically, economically and socially attuned to the well-being of mature residents. An age-friendly city optimizes health and security as well as engagement and productivity. It offers housing options and social services as well as opportunities for education, work, volunteerism and social interaction. These goals hold vast opportunity for our cities—and require new thinking as well as strong, committed mayoral leadership.

Too often we overlook older adults’ potential to improve society for people of all ages. We see only stereotypes of decline and disengagement. Mayors and other municipal leaders must promulgate the truth: Older residents can be an invaluable asset to their communities. We encourage government leaders to discard outmoded notions of aging that fail to consider this potential.

Older people today are healthier and more vibrant than in generations past. They have much to offer—not just the wisdom of age, but the practical experience and skills that can enrich families as well as work, educational and social settings. They offer a wealth of mentoring and training opportunities in the workforce, along with perspectives that enhance intergenerational teams. In encore careers and entrepreneurial ventures, they help drive economic growth. In education and volunteer activities, they contribute to society’s well-being.

Today’s mayors have a chance to help their communities reimagine what it means to grow older. With eyes open to 21st century reality, innovative officials can create environments that embrace the contributions of aging populations.

Through cross-agency efforts, cities will feature welcoming neighborhoods where age-friendly streets and shops encourage older people’s social engagement. Through upgraded infrastructure and communications, cities will enable people to age independently in their homes. By integrating health and social services into overall planning, cities will foster healthy aging. And through transportation and housing options, cities will promote mobility, safety and convenience, in the bargain enabling older adults to remain involved in their communities.

The role of mayors in this great urban challenge cannot be overstated. Leadership is paramount in championing a new model of aging that incorporates the many assets older people bring. Mayors’ ground-level experience with demographic transitions opens the door to solutions that can be replicated at the state, national and global levels.

Cities are economic engines and centers of purpose. Urban leaders can ensure that older residents contribute to the economy and strengthen civil society, applying their abilities and knowledge to keeping cities strong and vibrant. Our mayors can harness the benefits of longevity and embrace the upside of aging.

It’s time to make successful aging a priority in our cities. We look forward to celebrating the commitment and vision of mayors who sign the Best Cities for Successful Aging Pledge.

Paul-IrvingAbout the author: Paul H. Irving is president and a member of the board of the Milken Institute. Irving’s work to improve aging societies has been featured in outlets such as PBS Newshour, Forbes, CBS, NBC, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. He is the recipient of the 2014 Janet L. Witkin Award from Affordable Living for the Aging. Irving’s book, “The Upside of Aging – How Long Life is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy, and Purpose,” was recently published by John Wiley & Sons.

Supporting Small Businesses through Economic Development Offices

This is a guest post written by Jason Rittenberg.

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh is a mixed-use redevelopment project of CDFA member Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh is a mixed-use redevelopment project of CDFA member Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Incubators. Microlending. Accelerators. Crowdfunding. From rural areas to large cities, from the middle of the country to the coasts, today’s economic development entities — and their jargon — are all-in on encouraging small business finance.

Communities are increasing their support with good reason. Small businesses account for more than 99 percent of firms, 49 percent of employment and 42 percent of payroll in the country.[1] Further, small business lending continues to struggle out of the recession. While overall business lending is up nearly 25 percent from 2008, bank loans of less than $1 million remain down 14 percent over the same period.[2]

So communities are focused on helping small businesses, and from a constituent and need perspective, it makes sense for them to do so. But what does it mean to “help” a small business? For that matter, what is a “small” business? The answers to these questions are actually complex.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as having fewer than 500 employees, covering 99.7 percent of all firms. However, 90 percent of firms have fewer than 20 employees, and 62 percent have fewer than five. The difference in sophistication, goals and needs of a business with no employees is vastly different from a business with 10 employees, which is again exponentially different from a firm with 200 employees. Infusionsoft put together an infographic in 2012 to help illustrate these differences.

Given this variation, communities looking to support small businesses of any stripe need to think strategically about their economic development goals and needs before proceeding. Development finance programs require non-trivial commitments of resources to be effective and should therefore be entered into only as part of a comprehensive regional strategy. At the organization I work for, the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA), we refer to this approach as the “development finance toolbox.”[3]

In the area of small business access to capital, CDFA has seen a wide variety of city and state programs be successful. Technical assistance, seed and venture capital, credit enhancement, and lending programs — as well as incubators, microlending and other trendy solutions — can all contribute to small businesses in different ways. The keys to success are to match the right program to real community needs and to find the right partners to assist in implementation.

Small business needs, foundational finance programs, and innovative support programs are all being covered as part of the Providing Small Businesses with Access to Capital forum being held in Kansas City, MO on October 8-9, 2014. Economic development, small business development, and other city staff are encouraged to participate in the event to learn about the latest and best practices for encouraging this critical sector of the local economy.

Rittenberg_HeadShot_blogAbout the author: Jason Rittenberg is the Director of Research & Advisory Services for CDFA. He oversees numerous projects, including the State Small Business Credit Initiative Coalition, and is the course advisor the CDFA Intro Revolving Loan Fund Course.

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Latest Statistics of U.S. Businesses Annual Data. Retrieved 8/19/2014 from: http://www.census.gov/econ/susb/

[2] Simon, P. and Loten, A. (2014, Aug. 17). Small-business lending is slow to recover. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 8/19/2014 from: http://online.wsj.com/articles/small-business-lending-is-slow-to-recover-1408329562

[3] Rittner, T. (2009). Practitioner’s Guide to Economic Development Finance.

How Pittsburgh Plans to Connect Two Thousand Young People to Health Insurance

This is a guest post by Patrick Dowd. Pittsburgh, Pa. is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

Healthy-Together-Pitts

Pittsburgh is dubbed one of the most livable and most affordable cities in the nation and is known for its vibrant neighborhoods, world-class arts scene, top-rated health systems and friendly residents. Soon, it could be known for being the first city in the country to achieve 100 percent health insurance enrollment of children and youth. Thanks to a major grant from the National League of Cities (NLC), the Steel City may make history.

The NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative awarded Pittsburgh $200,000 to implement local outreach efforts to enroll its youngest residents in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The plan, called Healthy Together, will target two thousand young people who have been the hardest to reach and most difficult to enroll. The Office of the Mayor will lead the work and collaborate with primary partners: Allies for Children, the Consumer Health Coalition and the Allegheny County Health Department.

I want to thank the National League of Cities for this award, which is the result of a lot of hard work. We are going to use this program to reach 100 percent health insurance enrollment for our youth, and build a model outreach effort that other cities can duplicate across the country.

- Mayor William Peduto

To announce the news, Mayor William Peduto held a press conference in his office. Within hours, every major media outlet shared the story. Interviews appeared on CBS Pittsburgh, KDKA Newsradio, the Pittsburgh Business Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, WESA-AM and WPXI-TV, and social media messages spread like wildfire. #HealthyTogether reached more than 60,000 people on Twitter.

Allies-for-children-tweet

“We are excited about the initial buzz the grant created and plan to continue to engage the media,” says Allies for Children Executive Director Patrick Dowd. “However we know the key to the plan is to continue to build a strong coalition of elected officials, community leaders and child-serving organizations.”

“We realize that in order for this campaign to truly work, it must be led by the city and a mayor who priorities the health of our children,” says Nonprofit & Faith-Based Manager Betty Cruz. “That’s why we changed the direction of our initial approach during the application process. Upon receiving feedback from the National League of Cities, the Office of the Mayor worked with our primary partners on a plan that, over time, would build a sustainable model utilizing existing channels that can fold into the daily work of city government. This will hopefully bring about systematic changes to institutions serving youth.”

FB-Pitts-blog

Mayor Peduto’s Healthy Together campaign combines two core strategies to move Pittsburgh to complete coverage for all children and youth. First, Healthy Together proposes outreach efforts in those communities where it is most likely that uninsured children reside. In the broadest terms, the underlying strategy of the campaign is to embed outreach and enrollment activities in efforts that already exist, like the opening of swimming pools and the rental of sports fields. Additional activities include marching band performances, roving art carts and movies in the park.

“The events have the potential of reaching hundreds of uninsured children living in the City of Pittsburgh,” says Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker. “These kids are five times more likely to have an unmet medical concern and three times more likely to not have access to prescription drugs, like asthma inhalers. Additionally, uninsured kids are 30 percent less likely to get medical treatment when injured. This grant will help expand health access to every child in every neighborhood, so they can enjoy their childhoods to the fullest.”

Second, the Healthy Together campaign will bring systematic change to the institutions already serving children in Pittsburgh, thereby creating a net to catch kids not identified through outreach efforts. Simultaneously, with the launching of the outreach campaign, the City of Pittsburgh, which employs more than 6,000 city residents, will launch an in-reach campaign to make certain that all employees’ children are covered with health insurance. This could be the first step towards a larger effort to require that all firms contracting with the City of Pittsburgh perform similar in-reach efforts.

“We are thrilled that the city is putting the health care of our children at the forefront of practice changes and policy discussions,” says Consumer Health Coalition Executive Director Beth Heeb. “This work will change health outcomes for kids and significantly enhance access to quality, affordable health care.”

At the same time, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which serves 70 percent of the school age population of the City of Pittsburgh, will track a question on school enrollment forms, which asks if students have health insurance. Beginning in August, responses to this question will be electronically coded and shared with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. The information will then be entered into a data warehouse. Every application for which yes was not answered will be referred to the Consumer Healthcare Coalition to be matched with quality, affordable insurance.

Pitts-kids-pics

Outreach in the community combined with systematic change will not only help Pittsburgh cover 100 percent of children with health insurance, but will also foster a culture of coverage. This is especially important for the future of Pittsburgh as Mayor Peduto positions the city for population growth of 20,000 in the next decade. Having successful outreach strategies and systems in place to assist families, especially those new to the region, with finding affordable health insurance will be critical to the long-term health of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Throughout the enrollment campaign, Mayor Peduto will serve as a spokesperson, working with community members and community-based organizations.

Partners include:

  • A+ Schools;
  • Allegheny County Children’s Court;
  • Allegheny County Department of Human Services;
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh;
  • Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh;
  • Enroll America;
  • Homeless Children’s Education Fund;
  • Latino Family Center;
  • Perry Hilltop Citizens Council;
  • Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children;
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools;
  • Pittsburgh; Squirrel Hill Health Center;
  • Service Employees International Union;
  • The Brashear Association;
  • Kingsley Association;
  • United Way of Allegheny County;
  • YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Center for Race & Gender Equity;
  • Center for Social & Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh and Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Healthy Together combines a healthy mix of government leadership and community partnership with a rich variety of activities. The goal is to ensure that Pittsburgh’s children will live healthily ever after well beyond the life of this grant.

Dowd 2012-010 High ResolutionAbout the author: Patrick Dowd is a key partner in the Healthy Together enrollment campaign being led by the City of Pittsburgh. His organization, Allies for Children, has worked in partnership with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in shaping the Healthy Together plan and will continue to be a thought-partner throughout the campaign. Patrick joined Allies for Children in July 2013 as its inaugural executive director.

 

 

The Healthy Kids-Happy Families Insurance Campaign: Garden City, Michigan

This is a guest post by Megan Sheeran. Garden City, Mich. is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

By Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia Commons

Our nation thrives when the health of its smaller communities is good.  Access to health insurance for vulnerable populations, importantly children and families, is crucial in securing a better future for us all.  The city of Garden City is well aware of what makes a great community and has committed to strengthening its resident’s awareness and enrollment in Michigan’s low cost or no cost insurance programs.

Garden City, MI: In a Nutshell

Garden City is a small city with a lot of heart located in southeast Michigan, just a 30 minute drive from downtown Detroit.  Its residents are hard working and service-oriented people.  The city’s community leaders are always working hard to meet the needs of those people living within the city limits and beyond.  As the city’s motto states, it’s “A Great Place To Call Home”.

Getting a Plan in Motion

Garden City is one of the eight cities awarded the National League of Cities grant and technical assistance to support the city leader’s efforts to educate and enroll those residents that are eligible for low cost or no cost health insurance.

A Task Force, made up of community leaders, was organized to carry out the planning phase of the healthcare initiative named the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project.  Numerous community leaders signed on to be involved with the project including representatives from the school district, the local hospital, and the city government.  The Task Force is a shining example of the commitment and passion this community’s leaders have for the well-being of those residing in their city.

The goal of the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project is to enroll 100% of Garden City children and adults who are eligible for the Healthy Michigan insurance program but are not currently insured.  During the preliminary stage of program development, it was found that 10% of children in the city were uninsured and eligible for Healthy Michigan (roughly 633 children!).  Clearly, this number doesn’t include the many parents and family members that are also uninsured but are eligible for a Healthy Michigan plan.  It has been estimated that a large percentage of the city’s population will be positively influenced by this project.

Meeting the Significant Healthcare Need in the City:  A Two-Pronged Approach

Prong One

Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project is to increase awareness and knowledge of the Healthy Michigan, the state’s low cost or no cost insurance program.  Majority of residents surveyed during the planning process reported the reason they were not signed up for Healthy Michigan was due to the complicated and time-consuming process of enrolling.  It was important for the initiative to incorporate an educational dimension; therefore the residents of Garden City would be informed about their potential eligibility for Healthy Michigan, the potential benefits this would offer to their individual families and how simple it can be to enroll.

Prong Two 

The Project will offer enrollment assistance to those residents who qualify for the Healthy Michigan insurance program.  The key to this enrollment assistance is that it be offered by trusted community members in trusted community locations such as in schools, the community center, and at the local hospital.  A new city department, the Community Resource Department (CRD), will carry out the day-to-day workings of the project.  City staff and volunteer community members will be the “boots on the ground”, going out into the community and offering one-on-one personal assistance to adults and parents during the application process.

The Project will be in operation year round, apart from the initial campaign, to offer those individuals who have enrolled continuous form assistance and help with choosing a healthcare plan, select a local primary care physician and schedule their first well visit appointment.  It is crucial that these families and individuals do not fall through the cracks once they are found to be eligible for Healthy Michigan.

Increasing Health Insurance Coverage in Garden City: The Benefits

According to the National Center of Children in Poverty, children have higher health-related school absentee rates, affecting educational attainment and future employability (Present, Engage, and Accounted For: The Critical Importance of Addressing Chronic Absence in the Early Grades, 2008).  Parents of these children experience the challenges of coping with an ill child; employee absenteeism to be home with a sick child that causes lost wages and negatively impacts a parent’s ability to maintain consistent employment (C. Teng, Citispeak.org, 2013).  The Health Kids-Happy Families project will reduce the number of uninsured children in the city, thereby improving school attendance and educational attainment; preventing their parents’ from the threat of falling into a debilitating financial crisis.

In addition, the local hospital is currently challenged with a high rate of Emergency Room visits by uninsured families for non-emergency issues; majority of these visits go unpaid, causing tremendous financial burden on the hospital.  Also, when the Emergency Room is busy with non-emergency issues, true emergency treatment is often delayed.  Reducing non-emergency use of the Emergency Room will benefit the community greatly, financially and otherwise.

Garden City: Setting a Course to Thrive!

The City of Garden City’s Healthy Kids-Happy Families project is going to enrich its community immensely.  Being an example to other communities of what can happen when city leaders come together for the sole purpose of cultivating healthier outcomes for families and individuals and in doing so enriching the nation as a whole.

Megan-Sheeran-Garden-CityAbout the author: Megan Sheeran is a limited licensed Master of Social Work and is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work.  She recently returned to the City of Garden City as the Community Resource Coordinator and will be organizing the day-to-day tasks for the Healthy Kids-Happy Families Project as well as coordinating many other community support program.

 

 

Why Health Care Matters in Savannah

This is a guest post by Suzanne Donovan, Executive Director of Step Up Savannah. Savannah is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

Savannah-Skyline

More than 5,000 kids 18 and younger are uninsured in Chatham County, putting them at risk for preventable diseases, burdening families with financial distress resulting from medical bills and increasing costs to our hospitals (and taxpayers) for emergency room visits for routine care. A new initiative aims to change that.

A National League of Cities grant, just announced, will fund the Mayor’s Campaign for Healthy Children and Families to reduce by 50% the number of uninsured children in our county. Savannah is one of eight cities in the U.S. awarded these innovative grants that set 18-month goals to boost the numbers of eligible children and families enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare.

Step Up, with its partner, Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, the county’s healthcare collaborative, and City of Savannah staff produced the successful proposal. Key city departments such as the Public Information Office, the Citizen’s Office 311 service, plus enrollment and outreach partners will work hand-in-hand with community-based organizations, health clinics and hospitals to accomplish the ambitious enrollment gains.

Strategic points where kids and parents regularly intersect such as schools, health clinics, even public events will have information and direct families to trained enrollment assistance staff.

Georgia lags behind other states in terms of health insurance coverage for children and families. Eleven percent of Georgia’s children are uninsured, representing 4.3% of the nation’s total population of uninsured children. Additionally, 23% of Georgia adults with dependent children are uninsured; 78% of Georgia’s uninsured children are eligible, but not enrolled in Medicaid or PeachCare.

Access to health insurance is a critical piece of the poverty puzzle — medical debt causes undue hardship, particularly on low-income families, and in most cases is avoidable by signing up for existing public health insurance programs. The National League of Cities grant funds raise the possibility of fostering real change and getting more eligible families signed up in our county.

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About the author: Suzanne Donovan is executive director of Step Up Savannah, the City of Savannah’s poverty reduction initiative.

 

 

 

 

Jacksonville’s Plan to Reduce the Number of Uninsured Children in Duval County

This is a guest post by Cheryl Townsend, Cover Jacksonville Project Director. Jacksonville is one of eight cities NLC has awarded funding to reduce the number of uninsured children.

Cover Jacksonville partners (left to right): Jon Heymann, Jacksonville Children’s Commission; Michael Aubin, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital; The Honorable Kimberly Daniels, Jacksonville City Council; Connie Hodges, United Way of Northeast Florida; Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools The Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor of Jacksonville; Dawn Emerick, Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida; The Honorable Mia L. Jones, Florida House of Representatives and Special Assistant to Mayor Alvin Brown

Cover Jacksonville partners (left to right): Jon Heymann, Jacksonville Children’s Commission; Michael Aubin, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital; The Honorable Kimberly Daniels, Jacksonville City Council; Connie Hodges, United Way of Northeast Florida; Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools; The Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor of Jacksonville; Dawn Emerick, Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida; The Honorable Mia L. Jones, Florida House of Representatives and Special Assistant to Mayor Alvin Brown

There are over 25,000 uninsured children in Duval County (Jacksonville, FL). Many of these children qualify for insurance through Medicaid or Florida Healthy Kids (Florida KidCare), but most of their parents are simply not aware. And, while efforts have been made in the community to increase enrollment, ongoing challenges have created barriers to its success. Some of Jacksonville’s challenges have historically been a lack of strategic focus on community health, a very large five-county geographic service delivery area, and insufficient funding for educational outreach to get to all areas. Therefore, Jacksonville is extremely excited to begin implementation of the Cover Jacksonville campaign as a result of receiving the Cities Expanding Health Access to Children and Families grant from the National League of Cities.

Cover Jacksonville is a health campaign that builds on existing enrollment efforts and leverages community resources in order to reduce the number of uninsured Duval County children by 20% by December 2015. Led by the City of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, the campaign’s key partners include the Mayor’s appointment of Jacksonville’s first-ever Commissioner of Health, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, United Way of Northeast Florida, the Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida and Duval County Public Schools. Cover Jacksonville will focus on four outreach and enrollment strategies:

  • Building Capacity: Understanding and tackling obstacles through training and education of community stakeholders, parents, and elected officials.
  • Raising Awareness: Promoting a culture of health and education about insurance options, using phone banks and on-the-ground enrollment events, and online at http://www.coverjax.org (coming soon!).
  • Establishing a Single Point of Access: Streamlining the consumer information-gathering process by directing consumers to United Way of Northeast Florida’s 2-1-1 hotline, where parents will be able to schedule appointments with Community Enrollment Assisters at various sites located throughout the city.
  • Identifying Uninsured Children through Public Schools: Establishing a pilot program at three schools (Bartram Springs Elementary, Twin Lakes Middle School, and Atlantic Coast High School) to identify uninsured children through school enrollment questionnaires and using trained school officials, who will work to get these children coverage.

After analyzing secondary data and input from community leaders and parents, Cover Jacksonville will target working poor families with uninsured children. Previous community enrollment efforts utilized Health Zone designations to identify targeted areas, which left out families from pockets of poverty that fell outside the city’s urban core. By targeting working poor families throughout the county, however, Cover Jacksonville ensures these families will no longer be overlooked.

The Cover Jacksonville campaign will govern itself using a shared governance model, emphasizing: collaboration, shared decision making, and accountability to improve the quality of care, safety, and enhance work life. This includes the creation of the Cover Jacksonville Advisory Board, led by the Commissioner of Health, and the Cover Jacksonville Action Committee, led by the Project Director.

During the planning process, participation and invaluable input from the city’s top leadership provided a vision for what would eventually become Cover Jacksonville. These leaders included Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown; The Honorable Mia L. Jones, Florida House of Representatives and Special Assistant to the Mayor; Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools; The Honorable Kimberly Daniels, City of Jacksonville Public Health and Safety Committee Chair and City Council liaison to the Children’s Commission Board of Directors; The Honorable Ray Holt, Jacksonville City Council; Michael Aubin, Hospital President, Wolfson Children’s Hospital; Dr. Kelli Wells, Director, Duval County Health Department; Dawn Emerick, Principal/Owner, Impact Partners (formerly President & CEO, The Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida); Connie Hodges, CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida (ret.); and Jon Heymann, CEO of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

From January to April 2014, key partners held three additional meetings, in which they reviewed data, developed key messages, inventoried assets, developed a process map for the referral system, and established campaign performance measures. In parallel to the community leadership meetings, five consumer focus groups were also conducted. The initial campaign strategy was to target child and family health insurance enrollment, however, the consumer focus groups and key partners unanimously indicated a strong need to combine those outreach efforts and messaging with the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace’s existing adult enrollment efforts. As a result of this significant finding during the market analysis, the business plan reflects noteworthy collaborative efforts between the child and adult efforts such as a new consolidated brand, Cover Jacksonville.

In July of 2014, as we move into the implementation phase of Cover Jacksonville, we will continue to share our lessons with the hope that more stakeholders will understand the needs in our community and become more direct with their priorities for our children. And through collaboration and alignment of existing efforts and resources, the outcomes we expect to emerge not only include a decrease in the number of uninsured children, but a community-wide approach to sustaining a culture of health and wellness in Jacksonville, Florida.

For more information on how participate in the campaign, contact Cheryl Townsend at cherylt@coj.net or (904) 630-6405.

3aaff56About the author: Cheryl Townsend is the Cover Jacksonville Project Director at the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

Trust, but Verify: Case Study Examines Financial Fraud in Government

This is a guest post written by Adam Levenson of UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPA@UNC program.

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“Trust, but verify.” According to certified public finance officers Stan Helgerson and David Richardson, Ronald Reagan’s famous stance on international arms control is just as applicable to financial controls in municipal government.

As experts in government accounting and financial management, Helgerson and Richardson have been involved in cleaning up after the largest municipal fraud case in US history in which a trusted city comptroller embezzled more than $50 million in a decades-long fraud.

In the recent “Trust, but Verify” webinar co-sponsored by MPA@UNC and NLC University, they joined University of North Carolina associate professor Kimberly Nelson to describe what went wrong in one small, mid-western city and how other cities can avoid similar thefts.

Weak Internal Controls: Inviting Abuse

As Richardson describes it, the scam began in 1989 when the city comptroller began exploiting internal control weaknesses to embezzle as much as $5 million per year from city accounts. The comptroller took the following covert actions:

  • Set up a secret, city bank account without the knowledge of city commissioners or her colleagues.
  • Directed statements from that account to a PO Box that only she controlled.
  • Improperly raised spending limits by manipulating application of state budget and appropriations procedures.
  • Inflated annual pension fund and liability insurance property tax levies.

She also commingled funds to hide deficits in individual funds by setting up 35 checking accounts in multiple banks.

The city outsourced its accounting, auditing, and bookkeeping functions, and the comptroller was able to intercept and re-direct funds to her personal accounts.

From a financial management perspective, Helgerson and Richardson say multiple factors set the stage for fraud:

  • One person was given too much power.
  • The city council did not conduct a constructive review of financial activity; nor was it receiving the type of reports that enable such review.
  • The comptroller assembled budgets without staff input and with little feedback from the city council.
  • Employees and constituents were encouraged to take advantage of personal favors such as loans or advances, institutionalizing dubious behavior.
  • A significant capital projects program provided more opportunities for siphoning off funds.

With a city commissioner form of government, the city’s elected officials—rather than paid professional staff—functioned as heads of various departments such as finance and public works. An expert in form of government and performance, Nelson notes that research does not conclusively prove that certain forms of government are at higher risk of corruption.

However, she says three evident risk factors can contribute to local government corruption: inadequate level of professionalism in government, insufficient internal controls, and in locations with population demographics characterized by low income, high unemployment and poverty rates, and lower education rates.

The Scam Unravels

The comptroller’s scam finally unraveled in fall 2011. While the comptroller was on vacation, the city clerk covering her duties discovered a secret checking account and notified the mayor. The mayor promptly notified the FBI who launched an investigation that ultimately led to the comptroller’s arrest and conviction for wire fraud.

To date, through insurance and the sale of the comptroller’s assets, the city has recovered about $40 million of the $54 million stolen.

Moving Forward: Lessons Learned

With the fraud exposed, the city moved proactively to address the crisis—bringing in Helgerson and Richardson to restructure and reorganize its financial operations. While their work was specific to the city’s situation, they say every city can learn these lessons from the case:

  • The governing body should require and discuss annual management letters from auditors to identify possible internal control weaknesses. With staff sometimes inclined to discourage management letter comments, a strong audit committee may be needed.
  • The governing body must play a meaningful role in the development and review of annual budgets and the review of regular financial reports.
  • Internal controls for all major accounting and financial reporting functions should be formalized and documented—from purchasing procedures to debt issuance.
  • Checking accounts and funds should be consolidated wherever possible.
  • Duties should be segregated and staff cross-trained wherever feasible.
  • Statistical and financial comparisons should be made with similarly sized governments to detect anomalies.
  • A reporting process should be established to review and evaluate how internal control initiatives are performing.
  • Outsourcing financial functions can only work securely with the proper in-house procedures in place.

Learn more about MPA@UNC’s partnership with the National League of Cities and fellowships available to NLC members.

Editor’s note: The names of the city and comptroller have been omitted at the request of the National League of Cities.

Adam HeadshotAbout the Author: Adam Levenson is the community manager at UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPA@UNC: online Master of Public Administration – a top ranked MPA program. To learn more about MPA@UNC, you can follow @MPAatUNC.

What It Takes to Cluster

This is a guest post written by Daria Siegel, Director of Launch LM and Andrew Breslau, Downtown Alliance Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

Tech Tuesday’s took place at the South Street Seaport during the summer of 2013.  Hundreds of technologists gathered for conversations related to innovation and technology at this weekly public event series.

At Tech Tuesday’s during the summer of 2013, hundreds of technologists gathered for conversations related to innovation and technology at this weekly public event series.

It seems everybody these days wants a “tech cluster.” Municipalities across the country are repositioning themselves as tech friendly in hopes of capturing some of the promise the industry might hold for their local economy.

Here’s the rub though: a tech cluster can’t happen just anywhere. It needs two primary ingredients. One harkens back to that oldest of business clichés “location, location, location” and the other is a bit more under a municipality’s control: a coordinated strategic marketing campaign.

The beginnings of a meaningful tech cluster are rooted in the strength and breadth of a location’s irreducible assets. Even in the face of the digital economy’s decentralizing potential, agglomeration is essential. One of these desired clusters can’t be faked, plunked down just anywhere or retrofitted neatly in the postindustrial landscape (unless you have access to an extraordinary amount of capital i.e. Las Vegas). A preexisting creative cluster or digitally dependent core industry, robust academic assets, cutting edge telecommunications resources, access to financial resources for start-up and mature businesses alike and multi- modal transportation networks are just some of the characteristics that enable viable tech clusters.

If those assets constitute the hardware needed to animate a tech cluster, the software is marketing. In order to build the right marketing software, a location has to first be ruthlessly honest in its appraisal of what its “hard” assets are. Whatever your store of hard assets is, it will take a partnership amongst a consortium of stakeholders and investments in branding, social media and organizing to make the most of your locality’s strategic and competitive interests.

In Lower Manhattan, we’ve been doing just that.  In September of 2013 we created LaunchLM, an initiative to galvanize and grow the technology and digital communities in Lower Manhattan. Over the past year, the number of tech companies in Lower Manhattan grew by 24 percent, from nearly 500 to 600 companies today.  And that doesn’t even count digitally oriented media and other creative industries. We believe the potential to build on that is vast.

Lower Manhattan has a legacy rooted in innovation. From AT&T building its first headquarters here in 1916 to being the location of the first transatlantic telephone call, Lower Manhattan has always teemed with possibility. We’re blessed with unsurpassed transportation access, a rich pool of knowledge workers, space for businesses to let at a variety of price points, the nation’s most advanced fiber optic network and we possess an already bustling mixed use environment.

By partnering with the real estate industry, LaunchLM provides venues for programming and events targeted toward the creative industries sector, like the holiday party hosted by LaunchLM and Control Group at 4 World Trade Center.

LaunchLM provides venues for programming and events targeted toward the creative industries sector, like the holiday party hosted with Control Group at 4 World Trade Center.

LaunchLM grew out of a committee convened by the Alliance for Downtown New York—New York’s’ larges Business Improvement District. The committee, made up of stakeholders in the tech sector, real estate professionals, industry associations, community leaders, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, met for a year discussing and debating the kinds of catalysts needed to help Lower Manhattan reach its potential with the industry.

Two bedrock principles of the effort were clear and became the pillars of LaunchLM. The effort had to make those it was seeking to influence the parties who defined our direction and also make them partners in content making.  The effort needed to be by and for the technologists, executives and locational decision makers and influencers that make or break clustering. It also had to be an effort that was committed to for the long haul. Whatever work was undertaken would have to be sustained with constant investment and effort over time. Years, not weeks. To quote the Carpenters “we’ve only just begun.”

Launch likes to think of itself as relentlessly active and patient at the same time.

Whether it’s our restless pursuit of building virtual community through our rich website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, the attention we pay to SEO and email list building or the regular public programming we sponsor from Start-up Open houses to talks on the frontier of data science to discussions on the intersection of food and tech, we keep our ear to the ground about the industry’s latest trends and concerns and then invite them to partner with us to produce relevant content. We never forget it’s their industry, we help produce the venue, the crowd, make connections and spread the word.

This is the key to marketing to the Tech sector. If it’s ersatz –you’re done. Be what you advertise.

In addition to making content, Launch is an advocate. Among other things, we educate the real estate community about the particular needs of tech clients–flexible space, bike rooms, etc. You can look to our website as a resource for tech friendly buildings in the district. We also energetically engage with government, educational institutions and the not for profit sector on the industry’s needs and agenda. We strive to be a connecter, problem solver and industry champion.

Our next step will be creating a physical space where programming, networking and pedagogy can have a home. In the months ahead, LaunchLM will become a three dimensional destination where industry associations and startups, out of town executives and companies can come set up and shop, conduct business, sponsor hackathons, do product demos and convene audiences. All that and have a killer cup of coffee at the same time. Never forget that caffeine is the fuel that the Tech industry runs on!

Our results so far? Great press about the district’s assets, a constant drum beat about possibility, promise and achievement, a robust and growing social and communications network, a new sense of community, new connections between the real estate and tech industries and a palpable sense of momentum.

We’re confident that it’s the dynamic interplay between the intrinsic appeal of Lower Manhattan and how and with whom we sell it that will ultimately tell the tale of our “cluster.” We’re also confident that, with the course we’re setting, the oldest neighborhood in New York City is going to play a big role in defining the City’s economic future.

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Andrew Breslau is a Senior Vice President for the Alliance for Downtown New York. A former press secretary in New York City government, a not for profit executive and producer at CNN, he manages the Alliance’s communications, marketing and technology teams.

 

 
Daria_headshotDaria Siegel, an urban planner, serves as Director of LaunchLM, an initiative designed to champion the growing technology sector in Lower Manhattan, created by the Alliance for Downtown New York.