When I wanted to know what an affinity group is, I turned to my affinity for the dictionary. Webster’s definition is “people having a common goal or acting together for a specific purpose.” By this definition, the California Affinity Group (CAG) is perfectly named. CAG’s members work in Promise Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, a Performance Partnership Pilot area, city governments, school districts, community organizations, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Department of Education (ED) with the common goal of improving opportunities for people living in some of California’s most distressed communities.
On July 18 and 19, CAG held its first in-person peer exchange, on California State University, East Bay’s Hayward campus. While the group’s members had spoken via conference call, this was their first face-to-face meeting.
Dr. Carolyn Nelson, dean of the College of Education at Cal State, East Bay and principal investigator for Hayward Promise Neighborhood (HPN), said that Cal State, East Bay wanted to host the in-person meeting “because our university is shifting its role to being part of the community.” As Nelson explained, “We’re shifting how low-income, underrepresented communities see universities as inaccessible. We have a responsibility – being the most diverse campus on the mainland of the United States – that our students look like the students in the community.”
Melinda Hall, executive director of HPN, talked about her organization’s goal to “provide equitable opportunities for all the community members that we serve in the areas of safety, education and health.” Building on HPN’s work, Hayward was designated as a 2016 Promise Zone finalist.
HUD, the lead federal agency for urban Promise Zones, provides staff to the nation’s 14 urban Promise Zones. Erich Yost is HUD’s Los Angeles Promise Zone community liaison. “We’re engaged with aligning and targeting federal resources available across the federal government,” Yost said.
The peer exchange included visits to two community programs that receive HPN funding. “They were highlighted for the site visits to emphasize the need to keep middle-school students engaged over the summer in career-exploration,” said Hall.
The first visit was to the Eden Area Regional Occupational Program, which provides career and technical education classes in culinary science, criminal justice, medical careers, and construction.
The second visit was to the Chabot Community College Summer Youth Sports Program, a free program giving low-income youth an opportunity to participate in coached sports.
ED supports both Promise Neighborhood and Promise Zone work. As HUD’s Yost noted, “The U.S. Department of Education’s place-based initiatives team has been an invaluable resource for the Promise Zone initiative.” HPN’s Hall said, “I think U.S. Department of Education funding is important because it speaks to where the department’s priorities are.”
The participants found the peer exchange valuable. “Getting ideas from different parts of the state is really helpful,” said Hall. “There are some things that we could very easily implement here.”
Jaime Ramirez, a part of the technical assistance (TA) team assigned to the CAG, provided planning and facilitation support. After watching the group’s interactions, Ramirez said, “There’s something about getting together in person to get to know each other better. This is going to go a long way to share knowledge, wisdom, and best practices.”
Ramirez and the TA team will continue to facilitate and support CAG’s ongoing collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and application of best practices.
Joe Barison is a public affairs specialist in the Office of Communications and Outreach.