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Tou Lor, (l-r) Jenie Gao, artist, and Yimlaj Yang, work on a mural piece at Bayview Foundation in Madison.

City officials want to hear from residents in Madison’s Bayview neighborhood, said Alexis London, executive director of the Bayview International Center for Education and the Arts. But the residents, who hail from over 12 different countries, often aren’t prepared to give that feedback, she said.

It can be very challenging to ask residents from different cultures and languages to enter an “entirely new world” of Western city processes and guidelines, she said; it’s like asking residents to enter a “fast-moving river.”

“There’s very limited access to understanding how do you do those things. How do you navigate going to a City Council meeting? How do you navigate going to a neighborhood association meeting?” she said.

These concerns are exactly what a city request for proposals attempts to address: fostering neighborhood leadership development and supporting civic engagement in areas where “residents tend to be underrepresented in City processes and decision making in general.”

Many community organizations answered the city’s RFP, and the Bayview Foundation is one of three organizations that received recommendations for funding by city staff.

If funding is approved by a city committee and the City Council, The Progress Center for Black Women, Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Inc. and the Bayview Foundation, will all offer leadership development programs aimed at underrepresented city residents, beginning at the end of this year or early 2019.

To break down barriers for participants, all three programs offer stipends, childcare and language translation and/or interpretation.

The RFP from the city’s Community Development Division explicitly asked for programs serving underrepresented groups, which could include people of color, immigrants and residents with low-incomes. The RFP encouraged proposals for neighborhoods with Neighborhood Resource Teams, like the Darbo/Worthington, Hammersly/Theresa, Balsam/Russett, Park Edge/Park Ridge, Allied Drive, Bram’s/Burr Oaks, Owl Creek, Leopold and Brentwood/Northport neighborhoods.

The RFP was first issued in 2015, and Centro Hispano and a joint proposal by the Goodman and Lussier Community centers were awarded. The city decided to renew those awards for two subsequent years, and this year decided to put the money out for RFP again, said Jim O’Keefe, director of the city’s Community Development Division.

This year, city staff recommend that The Progress Center for Black Women receive $45,000 in 2019 and $11,250 in 2018. Vera Court was slated for $24,525 and Bayview for $37,475.

Other organizations that applied included Centro Hispano; Kids Forward; the Lussier Community Education Center; Nehemiah Community Development Corporation; Opportunity, Inc.; and UNIFY of Madison, Inc., with requests totaling over $470,000, O’Keefe said.

With so many proposals, there’s “clearly a need and desire to do more of this work,” London said, adding she thought it would be “incredibly wise” to contribute more money to the project in the future.

“This is what will change city government, this is what will change policies and practices that haven't been fair and have left some people behind in our community,” said London.

Before funding is finalized, the recommendations will come before the city’s Community Services Committee next Wednesday, which could accept or alter staff’s recommendations. The CSC’s recommendations must then be approved by the City Council at its Sept. 25 meeting.

The Progress Center’s program, called the Institute on Transformative Community Engagement, is a three-month leadership program. The citywide program aims to help underrepresented city residents and support them to “bring about transformative change in the community.” Participants will work in teams to tackle a community issue, and will “use the process as a lab, practicing new skills and using tools that are discussed throughout the program,” the application says.

Sabrina Madison, founder of the Process Center, feels that her success has come from her willingness to work with people from all over the city. That’s why she wanted to create a citywide leadership program — so people from different communities and backgrounds could share their expertise.

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“Someone might be trying to resolve an issue on the north side, but maybe the west side has already resolved it,” she said.

The Vera Court Inc. project  is a program for its Bridge Lake Point Waunona Neighborhood Center. It aims to provide culturally competent and bilingual training to 10 area participants, with goals for 75 percent of participants to be people of color and 50 percent to be renters. Participants will create a civic engagement project, which could face topics like drug use, access to healthy food or neighborhood safety. Long-term goals for the program include preparing participants take leadership or employee roles at the Bridge Lake Point Waunona Neighborhood Center, the application says.

“There’s a lot of excitement going on in the Bridge Lake neighborhood in the last couple years,” said Thomas Solyst, executive director of Vera Court, with many residents interested in becoming advocates for their neighborhood.

The program will prepare those advocates by teaching them networking and other skills, Solyst said.

The Bayview Foundation’s leadership program will target residents in the affordable housing Bayview Townhouses development. Current ethnic groups in the area include Hmong, Vietnamese, Latino, African-American and African.

That diversity brings many cultural “riches” of food, traditions and language, London said, but it comes with challenges. Neighbors can’t communicate “at length and in detail” when they don’t share a common language, and sometimes this lack of understanding can lead to assumptions. There are different approaches to parenting in the community: some are concerned about unsupervised children while others are delighted that kids run around and play together, London said.

“The goal is that there would be this deeper understanding and respect for all the different cultures. Without it assumptions have been made and generalizations and stereotypes can get formed and created and that can lead to racism,” she said.

Bayview’s proposal wants to address these “critical community” issues and raise up grassroots leaders within Bayview residents. They’ll be taught “core competencies” of community leadership, like fundraising, budgeting and public speaking, and implement community action projects at the end of their curriculum.

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