2019 Neighborhood Network learning cohort meeting

It’s said that “two minds are greater than one.” So, what do you consider dozens of minds working together? 

In our view, that’s true collaboration. 

At United Way, we put this problem solving approach to the test through our Neighborhood Network Initiative. Working as a facilitator and funder, United Way of Metro Chicago brings together residents, schools, government leaders, businesses and other stakeholders in 10 neighborhoods across the region to tackle their neighbors’ most pressing problems. 

Four times a year, we unite each Neighborhood Networks’ leaders for a Learning Cohort meeting. Together, they share and explore ideas that can help inform and improve their work. 

“United Way recognizes that there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to tackling the most significant issues impacting our city and region. However, there are many issues and assets that are not unique to one community, and by building bridges across our Neighborhood Networks, we’re able to collaborate, ” said Jackie Rosa, United Way’s Director of Community Engagement. 

Additionally, Jackie noted, given the lasting impact of our city’s history of segregation, it’s crucial to create a space where leaders from all different neighborhoods can learn from each other. 

In our latest meeting, the Learning Cohort gathered in Cicero to identify resource gaps in their neighborhoods. First, each Network leader mapped out their community on a posters. Next, they discussed with the group what opportunities and services are necessary to address residents’ needs and which groups in the community aren’t currently engaged in the Network. 

Some identified populations of residents who aren’t being served, while others recognized that there is a lack of specific services, like mental health treatment facilities, for their neighbors. Then, they considered strategies for resolving these issues. 

For Carlos Nelson, Executive Director of The Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), the Learning Cohort meeting was an opportunity to explore solutions to city-wide issues, like Chicago’s population loss, that each Network can tackle both in their neighborhood and through partnerships with other Neighborhood Networks. 

“We’re looking at our work regionally, though we’re locally-focused,” Carlos said. “In our case, on the South Side, you can see the mobility of residents moving to the south suburbs. Working collectively, we’re able to learn from our peers, improve some of our implementation and monitor as families transition from one community to another.”

“For instance, maybe a family from Auburn Gresham moves to Blue Island or Robbins, and we’re able to make those hand-offs [and connect them to service providers in their new community],” he added. 

Other leaders, like Andrew Sparks, Coordinator of the Little Village Neighborhood Network, said the Learning Cohort meetings allow the leaders to step back from their day-to-day work to “think about the Networks in new ways.” 

Through the meetings, Andrew, who is new to his role, hopes to learn how he can replicate successful initiatives implemented by other Networks in his community. For example, his team aims to better engage parents in community service and their children’s schooling. The Cicero, Brighton Park and West Chicago Neighborhood Networks have robust parent leadership and ambassador programs that provide an example of how a program in Little Village could be structured. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, these meetings inspire camaraderie between these changemakers who invest much emotional labor into their work to build stronger neighborhoods. 

“On a personal level there’s a motivation impact to [these meetings], to say ‘we’re not doing this alone. There’s a support system and there are other people doing similar work,’’’ Andrew said. “We can share wisdom and best practices, and we can be honest about the struggles. There’s great power in that.” 

The Neighborhood Network Initiative develops solutions that create measurable, long-term impacts in communities across our region. Learn more and donate to support this innovative effort!