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Skillman focusing grants on 6 Detroit neighborhoods
By Sherri Begin
• March 06, 2006

The Skillman Foundation has selected six Detroit neighborhoods that will receive $10 million, or half of its annual funding, over each of the next 10 years. The foundation is hoping that by focusing its grants in select areas it can foster healthy, safe and supportive environments for children and their families.

The neighborhoods are Chadsey/Condon and Vernor in southwest Detroit, Cody/Rouge and Brightmoor on the west side, Central in the middle of the city and Osborn in northeast Detroit. “We were looking at neighborhoods where there were lots of children and lots of need,” said Program Director Tonya Allen.
Skillman also looked for neighborhoods with strong citizen involvement and nonprofit communities and diversity, which is usually a pre-indicator of population growth, she said.

More than 65,000, or a third, of Detroit’s children live in the target neighborhoods, Skillman said. About half of them live in poverty.

Skillman plans to phase in funding, two neighborhoods at a time, over the next year and a half, completing planning for all of the neighborhoods by spring 2007. The funding could pay for things like after-school, family-support, income-building and personal-finance programs and will provide smaller grants to help volunteers in the community work with children.

Skillman plans to make its first Neighborhood Initiative grants in the Chadsey/Condon and Vernor communities.

The foundation has begun a series of meetings there to identify community priorities before it begins making grants.

More than 350 people attended the first two meetings in January and February, Skillman said. Three more meetings before April 1 are planned.

Skillman plans to announce a community goal for the Southwest Detroit neighborhoods on April 22 and to begin making grants to help address it by the fall. For example, the two Southwest Detroit communities are considering a goal of having 85 percent to 90 percent of children in the two communities graduate from high school, Allen said.

Currently, only 44.5 percent of students entering high school graduate in four years, she said.

The University of Michigan School of Social Work is assisting all of the neighborhoods targeted by Skillman in identifying a primary goal by helping them collect data on graduation rates, teenage pregnancy, drug use and violence touching children.

Skillman gave the school a two-year, $900,000 grant in September to help provide technical assistance to the six communities, Allen said.

Once they identify a broad goal, the two Southwest Detroit communities will begin mapping a strategy to achieve that goal, Allen said, with Skillman providing guidance in best practices.

Skillman plans to begin a similar planning process in Brightmoor and Osborn this spring and in the last two target communities in November, Allen said.

Skillman’s new, targeted approach to funding in select neighborhoods is a model other foundations and municipalities around the country have followed, said Tony Lentych, executive director, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan in Lansing.

The model can be effective, if the funder is overseeing the use of its grants and making sure they are having impact, he said.

But Lentych has concerns.

“Skillman’s focus on these neighborhoods could crowd out other funders,” he said.

The communities targeted for the Skillman grants had few, if any, foundation grants coming in before, Allen said.

“What we are trying to do is to draw attention to them and to be a champion for them to bring in additional resources.”
http://www.crainsdetroit.com/c gi-bin/article.pl?articleId=28 885

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