Grove Park Foundation’s Executive Director Talks About the Importance of Resident-Centered Community Engagement
Note from John Ahmann, President and CEO, Westside Future Fund
Our last column was posted on December 10th, 2018 by Kathy Colbenson, President & CEO of Chris 180, on Building Community Through Partnership. We took a break from our weekly columns to celebrate the holidays, the New Year and the Super Bowl, wonderfully hosted by the Atlanta Super Bowl Committee. On January 31st, 2019, we celebrated the Super Bowl Legacy Grant that renovated John F. Kennedy Park in Vine City, adjacent to the Hollis Innovation Academy. When I assumed leadership of the Westside Future Fund in May of 2016, an early fear that I heard expressed by some neighborhood leaders was that the focus on the Historic Westside would stop post Super Bowl. I can now report post-Super Bowl that is most definitely not the case. The momentum continues to build.
On March 21st, 2019, thanks to the leadership of co-hosts Dan Cathy, Arthur M. Blank and Ambassador Andrew Young, the Mercedes Benz Stadium will host a Super Bowl-level benefit exclusively for the Historic Westside: The Beloved Benefit! The Westside Future Fund (WFF) is one of the five beneficiaries, the others: Grove Park Foundation, City of Refuge, Westside Works, and the At-Promise Center. Check out the website to learn about this great celebration.
Thanks to the generosity of the City of Refuge, WFF has rent free office space on its campus. And in our offices is a big map of Atlanta’s Westside, compliments of Chick-fil-A. This map is Atlanta’s Westside framed by I-285 on the West, I-20 on the South, and Johnson Road on the North encompassing the new Westside Reservoir Park. Often in my office, I can hear a tour guide who is leading a Chick-fil-A Values tour talking about the different initiatives across this greater Westside supported by the Chick fil-A Foundation and others. The Beloved Benefit is supporting three of the placed-based initiatives on the Westside: Grove Park Foundation, City of Refuge and Westside Future Fund. While focused on different historic Westside neighborhoods, we all share a common denominator of supporting and advocating for proven strategies that build better lives. The other two Beloved Beneficiaries are within the focus neighborhoods of Westside Future Fund: Westside Works (Vine City) and the At-Promise Center (English Avenue).
Leading up to the Beloved Benefit, we are hosting at our bi-monthly Transform Westside Summits three of the beneficiaries: The Grove Park Foundation (February 15th), City of Refuge (March 1st) and Westside Works (March 15th). I am grateful that for this year’s kick-off Historic Westside column we have Debra Edelson, Executive Director of the Grove Park Foundation. True to the theme of the “More We, The More I Can Do”, the Grove Park Foundation serves as the “Community Quarterback” for the Grove Park neighborhood. I have had the privilege of knowing Debra before I started with Westside Future Fund. I have seen both the passion and commitment that she brings as a leader who has shepherded conservation programs with the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), and prior to that, through her work with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity. At our February 15th Transform Westside Summit, Debra moderated a panel that included Grove Park Foundation staff, as well as Board Member, Dr. Charles Harper and Grove Park resident, Ms. Tommie Mathis. If you missed it, check out the Summit Recap for highlights and to view the livestream. Please enjoy Debra’s column and come out to our Summit this Friday, March 1st as we build to the Beloved Benefit on Tuesday, March 21st!
The Importance of Resident-Centered Community Engagement
By Debra Edelson, Executive Director and Board Member, Grove Park Foundation
When the Grove Park Foundation began working in Atlanta’s Westside Grove Park neighborhood, the importance of resident centered community engagement was immediately evident and pursued. The holistic and place-based equitable revitalization work that the foundation is committed to requires creating and maintaining ongoing relationships with the existing residents, focused on meeting needs and building trust. Community engagement that prioritizes current residents is a critical component for honest, transparent, and holistic community revitalization.
Grove Park is an historic neighborhood. Built in the early 1920s, it was designed and built by Edwin Wiley Grove, a pharmaceutical magnate most famous for building the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC. Grove Park was conceived as a suburb of Atlanta in an unincorporated part of Fulton County. It was a white working-class neighborhood set at the end of the west trolley line, giving residents regional transportation to jobs in the city center just a few miles away. In the early 1950s it was annexed into the city. Due to the annexation and an increasing number of African American residents able to break through redlining policies, Grove Park experienced the forces of white flight. By 1965, the neighborhood had become a middle class African American community.
After decades of disinvestment, the closure of public housing developments and subsequent depopulation, and the 2008 recession, residents now face a complex set of barriers to achieving lives of opportunity and stability. The neighborhood faces these many challenges with a strong community history, legacy residents who provide an anchor for community vision, and a critical location to a unique part of the city (most notably the Westside Quarry Park and the Proctor Creek Greenway).
As a Purpose-Built Community, the Grove Park Foundation is working closely with neighborhood residents, partners and leaders to realize holistic community revitalization, drawing on the neighborhood’s many strengths. There is a stable, grassroots community that has established a robust neighborhood association, engages partners, and works closely with the foundation. There is also a network of longtime legacy residents, the backbone of Grove Park’s single-family community.
As the Foundation engages with residents around community needs, we build strong relationships with organizations already on the ground, like Grove Park Renewal, PAW Kids, Paradise CDC and X3 Foundation. And as a “community quarterback,” we work closely with other partners and programs to bridge gaps and meet community needs.
Looking forward, with lots of work lying ahead of us, Grove Park Foundation is committed to a neighborhood driven revitalization process, as reflected by inclusion of residents and neighborhood leadership who joined our recent panel at the Transform Westside Summit on February 15th. In that vein, the staff and board members of the Foundation have strong community tie—one resident on staff, a business leaders and pastor on our board—and we encourage all our partners to consider the benefits of this kind of community engagement as they begin working in Grove Park.
In the years to come, the Grove Park Foundation will continue to value the input of our neighborhood residents and leaders, so that we are learning and growing together in an equitable and thriving Grove Park.