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case study

Voices from the Field: A Focus on Flint, Mich.

May 3, 2018
What happens when you cross the best-laid plans with unexpected crisis? How do partnerships and initiatives – whether they are long-standing, emerging or re-emerging – respond in real-time and demonstrate their relevance?

 

Increasingly, community leaders across the country find themselves handling crises – both natural and human-made. In some situations there can be intense attention and a national spotlight, but the reality is always personal and extremely local.     

While members of the Flint & Genesee Opportunity Youth Coalition (OYC), housed in the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, had been meeting together for several years, 2015 marked the beginning of a new era. In the spring, the chamber was asked to serve as the “backbone” organization for OYC and Kristina Johnston was asked to step up into the lead facilitation role, bringing additional voices to the table and building momentum to move the coalition’s work forward. The start of the 2015/2016 school year marked the beginning of a nine-month effort to relaunch, reengage and reinvigorate efforts to address the needs of Opportunity Youth in Flint and Genesee County. Kristina turned to the Forum’s Big Picture Approach Consulting team for capacity-building and co-facilitation support as they engaged a broad set of providers and stakeholders in prioritysetting. As they rounded the corner into 2016, they were honing their action agenda and building consensus on starting points for new areas of joint work.   

At the same time, Cheryl Adkins and Rhetta Hunyady from YouthQuest, another initiative of the chamber of commerce, were in the ninth year of working with The Forum’s Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality on building a continuous quality improvement system for their extensive out-of-school time program serving over 1000 young people throughout Flint and Genesee County. In the 2015/2016 school year, they were deepening their focus on social and emotional learning in this work.     

But their work that year played out in a very different context than originally anticipated. The water crisis moved into the foreground over the course of the fall. Increasing revelations and news coverage eventually led to federal investigations and the declaration of a state of emergency in January 2016. National attention soared. A local response was essential. The chamber of commerce connected with other key leaders throughout the community on coordinating multiple efforts, dedicating a large board room on the main floor of their repurposed downtown bank building as a “war room” of maps, data and deployment strategies. Chamber staff, like many others, pulled double duty -- staying the course on core work and identifying ways that their mission-driven work could aid in the recovery effort.     

In March 2018, a new documentary called “Flint Town” was released, which reflected on the impact of that crisis and the ongoing story in Flint. We used that opportunity to have a conversation with the team leaders in Flint and asked them to think back on that time period and the roles that they played.  


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