A small youth and family resource center is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall at the intersection of Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in warm, sunny Los Angeles. It’s in “the other Hollywood,” where instead of calling for the lights, camera, and action of movie making, community leaders are in search of the solutions to poverty, mental health issues, and learned helplessness. Since 2013, with the help of a $30 million Promise Neighborhoods grant, the Hollywood FamilySource Center has become the “one-stop-shop” for local families in need of help.
On March 19, Secretary Arne Duncan, along with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods team, visited the center, which is operated by the Youth Policy Institute (YPI). The goals of the center are to increase family income and students’ academic achievement. During its fourth year of operation in 2013-14, more than 3,140 clients benefited from the Center’s core services: adult education and computer literacy classes, tutoring and enrichment programs to improve children and youths’ academic skills, medical and dental health care, and a number of other services.
Our day began with an administrative meeting that involved ED, HUD, YPI staff, partner organizations, local residents, and youth. The meeting was comprised of about 20 people. Several principals shared stories, both of successes and challenges, within their individual schools. Some described ways that YPI is working with their schools to provide academic support through the use of tutors and a College Ambassador program. Others shared academic strides that students are making at their schools. For example, a few years ago, the charter for the Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School was not expected to be renewed; however, within one year, the school restructured its model and included resources of YPI. As a result of the restructuring and resources of YPI, scores on the school’s Academic Performance Index ( the annual measure of test score performance of schools and districts) increased by 66 points. It is now one of the highest scoring elementary schools in the City of Los Angeles.
After the initial morning meetings, Secretary Duncan participated in a roundtable discussion, followed by a press conference. He heard heart-felt stories from homeless youth, parents, community residents, teachers, school administrators, and representatives of community-based organizations such as the STEM Academy and the LA Youth Network. Among the changes brought about by the Promise Neighborhood, 700 families now have college savings accounts as a result of a partnership with Citibank that assists low-income families with understanding the need to save for postsecondary education. “The difference [is] they understand you,” one student said. And that seems to be the missing link in so many students’ lives. The need for caring, loving adults who genuinely understand and take interest in young people echoed throughout the Secretary’s visit.
Closing the “opportunity gap” for students in East Hollywood through the efforts of YPI and its partners, Secretary Duncan noted, is the critical first step in closing the achievement gap. What he saw at the FamilySource Center is “remarkable leadership in action,” he told the Los Angeles Times, which followed his day-long journey in this article.
Promise Neighborhoods acts as an umbrella, creating a comprehensive program that makes the participating organizations think about their work differently. Gone are silos of individual services being offered to families, and in their place is a network of organizations holding each other accountable, so that significant changes can be made in the lives of young people and their families. YPI is able to offer cradle-to-college and career services and supports to community residents. Now that YPI has a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it plans to expand its efforts to reach seniors and disabled members of the local community.
YPI is the only Promise Neighborhoods grantee that was awarded both a planning and implementation grant from ED, as well as a Choice Neighborhoods planning grant and a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The ED, HUD, and DOJ programs are part of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, an interagency collaborative supporting federal engagement in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. YPI is also the only organization that was awarded two Full Service Community School grant awards.
Earlier this year, YPI was designated as a Promise Zone by the White House, where local communities and businesses will work together to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety.
Secretary Duncan didn’t meet any celebrities in the East Hollywood community he visited last month, but thanks to the help of the Promise Neighborhoods support, he did meet a number of real-life heroes who are acting from a script that’s improving the life of children and families each day.
Adrienne Hawkins is a management and program analyst for the Promise Neighborhoods Program in the Office of Parental Options and Information.