Promise Neighborhood Winners Revealed

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The Obama administration on Tuesday named 21 winners in one if its most coveted youth-related grant programs: the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative.

More than 300 applicants vied for the Promise grants, which provide about $500,000 each to plan networks of services based on the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The objective, said the Department of Education, is to build community-based “cradle-to-career services that improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children.”

Even as winners celebrated, however, the future of the program remains unclear. As explained here, the Obama administration’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal sought $200 million to help communities implement Promise Neighborhoods and $10 million for more planning grants, but House and Senate committees voted this summer to provide from $20 million to $60 million. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that the administration will push “very, very hard” for more money as Congress prepares to vote on the full budget.

For now, the grantees must plan their Promise Neighborhoods without the promise of more money. “Further congressional funding will be incredibly helpful, but it’s not something we’re especially concerned about,” Alex Reeves, communications chairman for the Athens Clarke County Family Connection, a grant-winning organization in Georgia. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before then.”

That work involves creating, improving and connecting an array of services, as the Children’s Zone model includes charter schools; out-of-school tutoring and enrichment; access to social workers and counseling; healthy meals; recreation; and free medical, dental and mental health services. Evaluations have hailed that holistic approach as a model for boosting the academic performance and behavior of low-income youth.

Fortunately for the winners, much of that work is already being done in their communities; the challenge lies in bringing together the pieces. “It’s just the next step in what we have been working on and will continue to work on,” said Reeves, whose says the area covered by his organization reports a 31 percent poverty rate and high levels of infant mortality, child poverty and crime.

Grant recipients ranged from small to large, and from rural to city – such as the Youth Policy Institute in Los Angeles, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation in Wyoming. Some focus primarily on educational programming (like the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), while others concentrate on providing health services and strengthening family and community support (like the Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Mass.).

The grant was originally intended to be made available to 20 organizations, but Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, said that because some applicants requested (and received) less than the $500,000 maximum, money was available for an additional grantee.

Although the planning grant recipients can apply for the future implementation grants, they will not be guaranteed additional funding. The application process will be open to all, the Education Department says.

Additional information:

The Case to Fund the Promise Neighborhoods Experiment

The Excitement and Pain of Competing for Promise Neighborhoods Money