An important part of the knowledge and experience that informs Hamilton Community Foundation’s focus on post-secondary access, as a pathway to Hamilton’s prosperity was garnered in over a decade of experience working side-by-side with citizens in the city’s neighbourhoods.
Recognizing strong neighbourhoods as the key to a strong city, Hamilton Community Foundation launched its Growing Roots…Strengthening Neighbourhoods initiative in 2002. This small grants program received attention across North America and proved the power of small grants and leadership development to help the city’s most challenged neighbourhoods identify and build on their assets.
This experience helped us in the ensuing years as our ongoing research and experience pointed to one pervasive barrier to Hamilton’s vitality: poverty.
HCF’s board decided to tackle this complex, long-term problem, head-on, focusing the bulk of its discretionary granting on this single issue. It was a bold approach, unheard-of in the community foundation world at the time.
An ongoing commitment
In the decade beginning 2012 the Foundation invested some $10 million into reducing and preventing poverty through strategic grantmaking and community leadership. We established the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction to address policy-level changes while stressing the pivotal role of neighbourhoods in strengthening the city – an approach since adopted by the City of Hamilton. Some of the changes resulting from this work includes:
- Increased community leadership and participation in some of Hamilton’s most challenged, yet resilient, neighbourhoods. Through HCF’s support to community developers, local planning teams have been advanced within each hub with resident leadership and significant resident involvement.
- Citizens receiving help in meeting their basic needs where they live. Food security transportation and local services are being addressed directly in the neighbourhoods.
- New programs and services planned, delivered and provided at a neighbourhood level, especially services for children and youth.
- Neighbourhoods that look different because decommissioned schools and churches are now community centres offering a wide range of services/programs. There is also new affordable housing, neighbourhood park clean-ups, playground builds, community gardens and property repairs.
- Grassroots groups have access to space and support as these new centres allow neighbourhood groups to have space at no or low cost.
- Neighbourhood hubs have become part of community conversation bringing an increased awareness of the challenges and good work being done in Hamilton neighbourhoods. Residents are also more aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
Most significantly, however, is that the work pioneered by Hamilton Community Foundation has led to the City of Hamilton’s decision to establish a Neighbourhood Action Strategy, building and expanding on the original hub model.
We continue to support the work of residents to develop their neighbourhoods, focusing on enabling residents to realize the action plans they have developed for their communities. Some key aspects of this work include include: The Neighbourhood Leadership Institute which nurtures the skills of local leaders to recognize and enhance their own leadership skills, and to use those skills to engage others in transforming their communities. We also provide a small grants fund that:
- Builds resident capacity for project planning and implementation
- Supports the engagement of the diverse range of people and groups within the neighbourhood
- Builds upon and share existing residents’ skills, knowledge and connections
- Supports a sense of shared ownership and pride of neighbourhoods by local residents
We continue to fund community developers who help residents engage and connect with their neighbours and their communities. And our donors continue to support agencies in their work in the hubs.
Beginning with “Growing Roots… Strengthening Neighbourhoods” to our multi-year poverty grantmaking focus, through to the new Neighbourhood Leadership Institute, Hamilton Community Foundation has held fast to two principles:
- We believe that every neighbourhood has assets: people with ideas and strengths and skills to offer. Our job has been to help them build on those assets.
- We believe that residents know best what their neighbourhoods need. Our job has been to listen, to be responsive, and to help their voices be heard.
Of course there is more to be done and more to learn about how best to do it but our neighbourhoods have shown that, with committed support from responsive partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors, they are more than up to the challenge.