Sometimes the biggest impact can be made by the smallest footprint. Stories abound of good folks endeavoring to save the entire planet only to fall short at the enormity of the job. In 2007, several members of the Jacksonville community, including then-Mayor John Peyton, discovered the Harlem Children’s Zone and traveled up to learn more. They found that Harlem Children’s Zone was offering wraparound, long-term support to individual students in Harlem, N.Y. with the hopes of seeing them go through college and beyond. Inspired by the effectiveness of narrowing the focus, they secured a partnership with Edward Waters College to launch the New Town Success Zone. The few blocks bordered by Myrtle Avenue, Beaver Street, and Kings Road were to benefit from specific efforts demanded by the 3,963 residents who live in the area. The voice of the people living there would be heard and progress could be made.
Today, Executive Director George Maxey says the organization that was once focused on children, now aims to help the entire community. “We focus on three main areas: health, education and economics. Those are the pillars that we focus on in order to get the community to empower itself,” Maxey says.
He and his team established a new way to get community member input by creating the Vision Keepers program. Comprised of some 400 community members who meet the first and third Thursday of every month, stakeholders discuss everything from education, transportation and work training.
“The area is 1.2 miles in radius and today 60 percent of the residents own their homes, with 90 percent of the homes being single-family homes,” Maxey said. “This is really a neighborhood initiative to move people out of poverty and into prosperity.”
Maxey also says that having a focused area allows for more one-on-one interactions between the program administrators and the residents. “We understand that the education of a child is important, but that education needs to happen at home as well, because children spend more time at home than they do at school,” Maxey says. “This is not a handout, it’s a hand up.”
The New Town Success Zone recently partnered with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and once a month offers entrepreneurial training to interested community members looking to start small businesses or receive training to achieve better positions. “Our hope is that our residents aren’t just signing the back of the checks, but are also signing the front of the checks for their employees,” Maxey says.
“Folks can help us by starting to build relationships with the community. We have partner meetings once a quarter at Edward Waters College and anyone interested in becoming involved can come learn about new and future initiatives,” Maxey says. He adds that financial support is always welcomed and will never be turned down, but that there is something slightly more precious. “The most valuable thing anyone can give is their time because people notice that, they notice the presence and can benefit from the camaraderie.”