I have been exploring the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone through some of my recent posts, for reasons outlined earlier. Their model is built around 5 principles of community development, and each principle is really worth thinking about and engaging with if you are involved in any level of community development. Here is the first:
Principle 1: Neighborhood-Based Approach
It is vitally important to establish a pervasive presence in the individual community where you work. Some non-profits offer a limited number of disconnected programs in one neighborhood or many programs scattered throughout several neighborhoods. But the effects of a few good, or even excellent, programs are easily diluted in otherwise under-served neighborhoods. To bring about widespread change it is necessary to work on a scale large enough to create a tipping point in a community’s cultural norms, a threshold beyond which a shift occurs away from destructive patterns and towards constructive goals. To achieve that tipping point, the collective programs offered by a non-profit must reach about 65% of the total children in the area served.
How does a non-profit organization shape the physical and social environment so that it positively affects child development? While no single non-profit organization can meet the needs of the millions of American children living in poverty, one organization working with partners can make a difference for thousands of children in one community. At HCZ, we focus on a finite area where we can concentrate intensive services on a large number of children and families, including those that are hardest to reach. We surround children with role models and programs whose message is success. As an increasing percentage of the community responds to these positive influences, we create a tipping point in community norms. This strategy changes the odds for a whole neighborhood rather than just helping a few kids beat the odds.