By Jose Abonce, Austin Neighborhood Network
January 13, 2020
Chicago is a city made up of 77 community areas, and within each of the 77 community areas, there can be several neighborhoods. Many of these Chicago communities are distinct in their history, architecture, retail, and residents. Within these communities, we also have distinct non-profit organizations serving community residents with specific needs and resources. Founded in 2010 in Chicago’s west side community of Austin, Austin Coming Together (ACT) was created in an effort to build relationships with local residents and stakeholders to better coordinate resources and maximize the impact local organizations have on Austin residents. As a collective impact organization, ACT is a membership-based organization. Currently the ACT network consists of nearly 60 organizations that are based in Austin or service Austin residents.
In Chicago, ACT has been taking a different approach to community development. Over the last 10 years, ACT has worked on developing relationships with residents and service providers. Leveraging those strong relationships was instrumental for ACT, in 2017, to launch and facilitate an 18-month long community-driven planning process that engaged over 500 community stakeholders to develop Austin's very first Quality of Life Plan (QLP). While community engagement is not always a priority in traditional planning processes, we made engagement and relationships the core for our QLP. The plan was published in December of 2018 and is made up of seven issue areas and identifies 23 strategies that serve as a vision for a stronger more thriving Austin community over the next five years. 2019 served as Year One of the plan's Implementation Phase and successfully initiated over 30 percent of the plan's actions and engaged 43 unique Implementation Partners, while attracting $13 million dollars in investment towards implementation efforts. Investment of this kind allows us to accelerate implementation and is a testament to the ten years of relationship-building efforts that have positioned Austin to leverage the support from philanthropy and corporate sponsors to make a significant impact. The publication of the plan, and now the implementation efforts of the plan, highlight the power of creating spaces to share diverse backgrounds and perspectives and how community-led planning efforts can be the key to creating change and community-led solutions to Austin’s most pressing needs as identified by Austin stakeholders.
An example of collaborative action being initiated as a result of Austin’s Quality of Life Plan was set in motion in late 2018. The Education Task Force began to initiate action around Strategy 1.2: Improve the early learning environment in Austin by helping existing providers become accredited and more deeply prepared for child development. With Chicago Public Schools rolling out universal pre-k, we understood centers across the community can potentially be at risk of losing youth if we are not working towards improving the quality of programming. Austin Childcare Providers Network (ACPN), who has worked to organize providers and centers in the community to access resources and technical support that leads to higher quality opportunities for Austin youth, worked with ACT to develop a partnership with Malcolm X City College. Throughout 2019, all three partners began working on creating and supporting a cohort of Austin early childcare providers interested in going to school to further their infant/toddler credentials and be able to increase the quality of programming offered in Austin. By leveraging Malcolm X’s Satellite Center in the community, the cohort of providers will be able to access tutoring, classes, and wrap-around services within the community. The cohort launched in January 2020 with 25 providers and will grow to support more providers each semester.
Stewarding and facilitating the Austin Neighborhood Network is Austin Coming Together (ACT). ACT’s work is driven by shared leadership, a commitment to the use of data and rigorous research; and a commitment to creative, strategic thinking. We are committed to living our core values and increasing collective impact to improve the quality of life in the Austin community of Chicago. To find more, visit https://www.networksofopportunity.org/lc-profile-austin-neigh-network-il