Strengthening neighborhoods through deep community engagement: Brooklyn Community Foundation

Written by: Lisa Ranghelli

Date: May 02, 2018

In 2014, under the leadership of its new president and CEO, Cecilia Clarke, Brooklyn Community Foundation moved to Crown Heights to be situated close to the community it serves. And while many community foundations seek input about certain aspects of their work, Brooklyn Community Foundation took it a step further by extensively engaging with grantees and community members to determine the future direction of its grantmaking.

Through its community engagement initiative called “Brooklyn Insights,” the foundation engaged nearly 1,000 people through 30 sector-based roundtables and “deep-dives” into three neighborhoods – striving to capture challenges and opportunities facing Brooklyn at a time of unprecedented growth and inequality and to find concrete ways the foundation could make a measurable impact.

While hosting a series of neighborhood dialogues in the East New York neighborhood, the foundation’s director of community leadership Tynesha McHarris met one on one with a range of local leaders. This led to new relationships and funding opportunities. For example, the foundation supported the nascent efforts of one leader, Misba Abdin, to bring together the Bangladeshi immigrant community, offering training and technical assistance so that Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services (BACDYS) could hire its first director and be ready to apply to other local grantmakers.

Following Brooklyn Insights, the Brooklyn Community Foundation launched a resident-led investment program called “Neighborhood Strength” to empower local changemakers in Crown Heights. The initiative brings together community members to identify and direct funding to solutions that target significant local challenges. The foundation hired an experienced community organizer to facilitate the process, which included three visioning sessions and the creation of a 17-member advisory council.

The council found that the development and enhancement of public spaces would create more opportunities for residents to continue to address shared community challenges while building intergenerational relationships across class, race and ethnic groups. As a result, BCF invested $100,000 into six Crown Heights public spaces. Due to the success of this resident-driven process, Brooklyn Community Foundation has decided to implement it every year.

The foundation was awarded the NCRP Impact Award for the community foundation category in 2015.

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