Building a Greater Bronx with Citi Community Progress Makers

A new public art installation that addresses the community’s need for safer, more vibrant, and more welcoming public spaces; increased outreach and small business support to local merchants at risk of displacement in the South Bronx; continued professional development opportunities and technical support to home-based childcare entrepreneurs in WHEDco’s licensed provider network, who collectively earned $25 million in 2018… these are a few of WHEDco’s accomplishments over the course of the past two years, thanks, in part, to Citi Foundation’s $500,000 investment in core operating support.

In 2018, the Citi Foundation announced that WHEDco had been selected as the recipient of a $500,000 grant as part of the 2018 Community Progress Makers Fund, joining a group of 40 change agents who are working to address urban challenges across the country. The Fund is a $20 million, two-year initiative by the Citi Foundation to support high-impact community organizations that are driving economic opportunities in our communities by bringing together residents, nonprofits, businesses, and municipal agencies.

Economic Opportunity

During the Community Progress Makers funding period, WHEDco embarked on a two-year research and planning project to collect and compile economic, demographic, housing, small business, educational, health, and other related data and research on the Jerome Avenue and Southern Boulevard rezoning areas, which will result in two reports providing the basis for equitable development in each area.

Through the Fund, WHEDco sought to provide Bronx residents increased opportunities to participate in economic changes and new investment coming to the borough. Core operating support allowed us to take a wider view of how to support businesses with technology, training and financial services, and meet the specific financial needs of Bronx businesses, entrepreneurs, and residents, including immigrants.

angiolinaTake, for instance, Angiolina and Peter Castillo, who are the proud co-owners of Jerome Auto Driving School and Angiolina’s Restaurant along Jerome Avenue in the South Bronx, an area that was rezoned in 2018, creating unrest among local residents and merchants who feared displacement due to rising costs.

After 15 years of operating a driving school and multiservice business, the couple was able to open a Dominican-style restaurant at an adjacent storefront on Jerome Avenue in 2017. Despite the Castillos’ long history in the community, the business owners have faced challenges common to new restaurant owners, including building a strong customer base. WHEDco has been working with the Castillos to help promote their businesses. In 2019, we helped them to create a new Yelp and Google Website, and hired Angiolina’s as our food vendor for our Bronx Small Business Resource Fair on February 26. In addition, we featured this business as part of our Neighborhood Nibbles campaign, a two-week initiative in June 2019 in which community members were able to sample free treats from local food vendors through a coupon book created by WHEDco, featuring local restaurants.

Building a Greater Bronx

Thanks to Citi Foundation’s $500,000 investment in core operating support, WHEDco was able to increase opportunities for Bronx residents to participate in economic changes and new investment coming to the borough.

Further, through the Fund, we were able to make important strides in our efforts to accomplish our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan goal to deepen and strengthen our community impact through some of our key areas of work, including early childhood and youth development, small business support, and community revitalization.

The Community Progress Makers Fund enabled WHEDco to continue to increase quality care and school readiness for very young children starting in home-based childcare settings; continue to ensure students’ ability to excel in school, access high-performing high schools, graduate, and attend college, and to become leaders, mentors, and positive contributors in their community; continue to support small businesses that help families become more financially stable, and continue to identify, partner, and create many opportunities in our homes and neighborhoods for a healthier borough.

Meanwhile, construction on the residential portion of Bronx Commons, WHEDco’s newest mixed-use affordable housing, is nearing completion and we are on track to begin welcoming residents into the building November 2019. Bronx Commons is WHEDco’s third and most ambitious affordable housing development to date. This $165 MM, 426,000 sq. ft mixed-use development will not only provide 305 units of deeply affordable housing for individuals and families with incomes ranging from 30-110% AMI, including families and individuals coming out of the shelter system and individuals impacted by domestic violence, but it will also boast state-of-the-art sustainability features, recreational and open space, and places to eat and shop, all anchored by the Bronx Music Hall, a new music venue and arts-based community center.

Creating Invaluable Partnerships

The opportunity to be part of a cohort of 40 like-minded organizations allowed us to make invaluable partnerships, while learning from (and being inspired by) the great work that so many of our colleagues are doing to ensure the long-term stability and progress of communities across the country.

The experience we have shared with the Community Progress Makers cohort has broadened and strengthened our network of community development organizations. In particular, we see local Community Progress Makers as peers who we can approach more easily with a common experience as a background for ideas, partnership opportunities, or to discuss shared challenges in our work. Our collaboration with LISC NYC, The HOPE Program, The Point CDC, and Start Small Think Big has especially advanced our work in affordable housing, land use, small business engagement, small business technical assistance on legal, financial and marketing issues, retail attraction, workforce and economic development, placemaking, beautification, and community organizing.

Meanwhile, the technical assistance we received through the Urban Institute in connection with Community Progress Makers has helped advance our research and program development. The Urban Institute’s third-party perspective on our Childcare Home Assessment and Support Tool and our logic models gave us a valuable opportunity to “test” our tools to ensure that they were clear and comprehensive to an outside reader. Both the CHAST and the logic models are integral to our program design and efficacy of our services. The logic models will help form a backdrop for our strategic plan by helping us determine if our goals, activities, and inputs will lead to our desired outcomes and impacts over the mid- to long-term.

WHEDco looks forward to the November 2019 Convening, where we’ll have the opportunity to reflect on our shared experiences with our fellow Progress Makers.