Lessons Learned From an After-School/Housing Authority Partnership
The Afterschool Alliance and the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities recently presented a webinar about partnerships between public housing authorities and after-school providers. Listening to what housing residents say they want from after-school programs is key to a successful partnership, the webinar participants said.
Sanford Riggs, director of housing services for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and Tish Murry, vice president of operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, discussed the challenges and successes of the after-school program operated by the Boys & Girls Clubs at Mar Vista Gardens, Los Angeles' largest public housing community.
The City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks offered out-of-school-time programs at Mar Vista Gardens for years, but when it ran out of sustainable funding, the housing authority invited the Boys & Girls Clubs, which operates 10 other programs in the Santa Monica area, to come in.
One of the biggest challenges the housing authority and the Boys & Girls Clubs faced was convincing residents that the new after-school provider would be a benefit to the community, Riggs said in the webinar. "Change is difficult for our public housing residents," Riggs said. "Recreation and Parks had been there for many years, had mentored many residents who were now adults and were mentoring their children." In addition, gang members were wary of new people who might upset their turf coming into their community.
Riggs said the groups overcame residents' distrust by initiating their engagement at the outset of the process with focus groups; inviting residents to tour similar facilities to help them envision the future; and listening to and incorporating resident feedback in program design, among other steps.
On the part of the Boys & Girls Clubs, "having an open mind was key," said Murry. "We did a lot of listening those first few weeks, especially about things that were important [to residents]."
The Boys & Girls Clubs offers programs for 6- to 18-year-olds, but residents also really wanted programs for 5-year-olds. So the group created a soccer league and a T-ball league for 5-year-olds. "We had to be really open to thinking differently. Things we don't normally do, we're being open to," Murry said.
The group launched its Mar Vista Gardens program in 2013. In just one year, registration in the program has grown from 100 to 600 members, with the Boys & Girls Clubs now serving 120 children a day. Parents are more involved at the Boys & Girls Club's Mar Vista Gardens site than at other locations around Los Angeles, Murry said. The group has also found private funding to improve the facilities it uses at the housing community.
"One thing is not to panic at the beginning when there is some resistance," Murry said. "Let your programs speak for themselves. If your programs are great, you're going to win them over." She told the story of one resident who was vocally opposed to the Boys & Girls Clubs replacing Parks and Recreation as the community's after-school provider at the start. These days, he's coaching the group's T-ball team.
View the full webinar here.