Yesterday I attended the Mayor’s Council of Clergy. This seemed like a good way to meet some colleagues and learn about the city. In the past, I’ve enjoyed being involved in interfaith clergy groups but always in towns with populations of 20,000-40,000. Such a group draws about 8-12 people to a fairly relaxed, self-organized monthly meeting.
Yesterday was a very different sort of thing. I estimate between 100 and 120 clergy in the room. There were a number of other people there as well. The mayor and his staff were there. The mayor told us that Orlando has been awarded a “Cities of Service Leadership Grant.” This is intended to help increase volunteerism in the city by developing strong partnerships. In the grant application, two areas where increased service could have significant impact were identified. These were youth crime prevention and youth educational enhancements. The program involves a partnership with UCF (University of Central Florida), Orlando Magic, Orange County Public Schools, Heart of Florida United Way, The Community Foundation. If you are interested, you can read the June announcement about the grant here.
Also present were a UCF professor and his doctoral students doing research on volunteerism in Orlando. At one point, each table of 8 clergy turned into a focus group and we answered questions related to volunteerism. I had mixed feelings as I realized how common the challenges are across organizations. On the one hand, it’s nice to know it’s not just us. On the other hand, it would be really nice to find “the answer.”
An additional speaker from the US Department of Education told us about an emerging project to turn around the 5% of schools in the nation that are “persistently lowest-performing.” This was the most intriguing project to me. A middle school in Orlando has been identified as being in this category and the DOE is looking for community partners to make a commitment to changing the lives of individuals, families, and the community associated with that school and its feeder elementary schools. The four focus areas include boosting attendance, decreasing negative behavior, improving academics, and increasing access to post-secondary education. I attended a second meeting to learn more about it. Although very much in the forming stages, it could be a project that honors the congregation’s commitment to children and gets us out in the community making a tangible difference. I’ll keep an eye on it.
If you want to know more about any of these projects, or, if you know things about these areas that I should know, please be in touch. I am still very much learning about my new hometown and look forward to learning from and with all the sources available.