by MPN Director Richard Raya

All San Franciscans should be dismayed by the Chronicle story [“A child left behind: SF student failed every class in high school,” March 28, 2018 ], which showcased a student who Booker T. Washington Community Service Center agency staff claim garnered straight F’s over many years — without intervention — while attending Washington High School in the Outer Richmond District. We implore the populace to demand students and parents of our most-underserved schools be given the tools they need to succeed. That means equitable allocation of funding, staffing and family support dollars, with a prioritization of our children’s futures in San Francisco’s robust $10+ billion annual budget.

The 20 community partners of the Mission Promise Neighborhood — an education initiative working in a quartet of Mission District schools — know of the endemic challenges our primarily low-income students face. But we vehemently disagree with the statement in the article that: “Nothing has changed in years and years. There’s no help. There’s no intervention.”

Our students’ narrative is different.

With Mission Promise Neighborhood’s network of support, our students are definitely not slipping through the cracks. That is because each school, a family success coach and neighborhood partners lock arms to serve as a supportive community for students and families who are most in need. We work collaboratively to identify at-risk students — and focus our resources to meet the needs of those students and their families. Individualized action plans are developed to meet students’ academic goals, including connecting these youth and their families to health care (mental/physical), housing, child care, employment and more. Most importantly, we meet regularly to set goals, measure our results and hold ourselves accountable to getting the work done.

During our five-year initiative in partnership with SFUSD, John O’Connell High School graduation rates for our Latino students increased from 62 percent to 88 percent, and graduation rates for our African American students increased from 46 percent to 93 percent. These are dramatic numbers, showcasing the fact that something “has changed.”

The article mentioned that communication between the child’s school and parents was limited. In contrast, Mission Promise Neighborhood provides trauma-informed, culturally responsive programming. Surveys indicate that more than 94 percent of our parents feel welcome at our elementary schools. At our middle and high school, the percentage of parents who feel welcome is 92 percent and 93 percent, respectively.  

All kids are resilient and want to succeed: This belief in the ability of our children is part of the foundation of the national Promise Neighborhood movement. The first Promise Neighborhood was started in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood by Geoffrey Canada, when he made a promise that every child in his community can graduate prepared for college.

In San Francisco Unified’s Promise Neighborhood, we’re keeping that promise, and it’s only the beginning.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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In December 2012, MEDA worked with city agencies and 25 neighborhood partners to replicate New York’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone in the Mission District of San Francisco. The goal of the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) is to guide students on a cradle-to-college-to-career continuum, while helping their families achieve economic success.

Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Richard Raya (photo, lower right) is now spearheading this innovative initiative.

What background do you bring to leading the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
I’m a third-generation Bay Area native who grew up in one of California’s largest Section 8 housing complexes. After dropping out of my predominantly Latino high school, I went to community college, then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where I earned a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in Public Policy. I dedicated my life to helping transform lives the way my life was transformed. The Promise Neighborhood initiative is the embodiment of why I went to college: to help low-income families and communities of color maximize their extraordinary capacity to survive and thrive.

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with elected officials, administrators and community leaders on data-driven, interagency collaboratives focused on improving program results in low-income communities, as well as on equitable development efforts resulting in affordable housing, below-market retail space and local-hire goals. My positions included director of administrative services for the Alameda County Public Health Department, executive director of Youth Radio and chief of staff for an Oakland city councilmember.

What is the greatest challenge of the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
The greatest challenge of the Mission Promise Neighborhood is that we are trying to solve a problem that no single organization can solve on its own — the challenge of getting every kid in the neighborhood to graduate prepared for college or career. Our collective impact approach of working with partners to provide wraparound services requires a great deal of trust between partner organizations, data sharing, coordination and communication. An additional challenge is that we’re doing all of this while also attempting to prevent these students from being displaced by the massive economic forces reshaping the face of San Francisco, and national policies threatening some of our immigrant families. Lastly, our initial federal grant is in its sunset phase; although we will be applying for an extension grant when it is released in the next few months, this award is not guaranteed. Our challenges are many, but we have the team, partners and infrastructure to meet these challenges.

What are the greatest successes of the Mission Promise Neighborhood to date?
A lot of people say they are working on collective impact, but few are pulling it off. The partners of the Mission Promise Neighborhood are pulling it off — collaborating and building relationships across silos and service system barriers, and using a common database to share information and provide wraparound services. In addition, MPN is also working with families to help them develop the assets to control their destinies, and preserving and building affordable housing to keep families in place and stabilize our community.

The high school graduation results are in: Rates increased dramatically for Latino and African American students. Over the five years of the MPN partnership, Latino graduation rates increased from 62 percent to 88 percent at John O’Connell High School, and African American graduation rates went from 46 percent to 93 percent.

It’s always going to be difficult to take direct credit for outcomes in a collective impact approach. The greatest success may be the relationships built among providers — the schools, the community agencies — and the buy-in to use a common referral system and share data.

MPN created a referral tool for partners to use to provide wraparound services to students and their families. After 2.5 years of collecting referral data (January 2014-August 2017), the MPN partners generated 4,389 referrals and impacted 2,303 individual families. (Read data brief.)

MPN has also built an awesome team. Our family success coaches have gotten to know students, families and school principals, and are responsible for making the referrals to community partners. Combined with our administrative and evaluation staff, this forms the backbone of the collective impact work. I’ve heard it said that with the right team you can accomplish anything. I feel that way with this team.

What is your vision for Mission Promise Neighborhood for 2018 and beyond?
The Mission District is one of the greatest neighborhoods in San Francisco, which itself is one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s an honor for San Francisco to host a flagship initiative such as a Promise Neighborhood. San Francisco has an opportunity now to decide what the next version of its Promise Neighborhood will look like. My vision is that we will double down on the collective impact infrastructure built by MPN, build on the relationships developed with partners, and expand services to more students and their families. This vision is not mine alone; it was developed by the MPN partners in a sustainability planning session last summer. Our vision is that we will continue sharing data across agencies as a means to make program decisions, while holding ourselves accountable to measured results, all framed by the agreement that we are responsible for each other’s children. In addition, we will strive to be guided by authentic community voice, and strengthen the ties of MPN to our broader MEDA asset building, affordable housing and parent leadership work. It’s an exciting time.

In my first four weeks, I’ve met dozens of partners, and I’ve visited all four of our Promise Neighborhood campuses: John O’Connell High School, Everett Middle School, and Bryant and César Chávez elementary schools. Our schools are the centers of our community, the fulcrum of our collaboration and the best places to meet our young people and their families. There is a lot that happens before children even enter school, so I’ve also toured the Felton Family Development Center, one of our early learning partners. This outreach will continue throughout the next few months, culminating in a report this spring sharing the considerable accomplishments of our collaborative over the past years, and where we hope to go from here, together. Please email if you’d like to arrange a meeting with me.

There is so much going on in a Promise Neighborhood, so many moving parts, that communication is key. Our team will be redoubling our efforts in using this blog to provide you with regular updates on the great work that our schools and partners are doing.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

Read More

PrintAt crowd-filled Cease & Desist last night, the community came together to Start & Donate at the first of a trio of planned 2017 fundraisers for the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship Fund. This initial event was called “Tips for Tuition.”

The result? A terrific start, with $3,000 raised. (Donate on Razoo.)

The need
The Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship Fund started a year ago, helping send four deserving John O’Connell High School seniors to college. All matriculated in fall 2016, their college dreams and career aspirations now within reach.

This scholarship fund is now entering its second year, as we look to send more Mission youth on to postsecondary education.

There is a definite need for such a fund. The education initiative has worked hard to create a college-going culture at home, plus provide mentoring via partners such as Mission Graduates; however, 77 percent of Mission Promise Neighborhood families earn less than $35,000 a year household income (survey, page 11). That translates to paying for daily necessities being a struggle in an expensive city like San Francisco, leaving little to nothing to set aside in a college fund.

The fundraiser
With the throng filling the back-bar area, tip jars quickly showcased 10’s and 20’s as guest bartenders, donning Mission Promise Neighborhood T-shirts, poured for attendees. A special shout out to those guest bartenders, including: Jill Marinelli of Mission Graduates; Amy Abero from John O’Connell High School; Lucia Obregon and Ernesto Martinez of MEDA; Juaquín Sims, a MEDA Junior Board Member; and DoubleDutch’s Claire Sands, who is also a MEDA Junior Board Member.

Plenty of money was raised via raffles, with generous donations from Tartine BakeryMateo’s TaqueriaGiordano Bros.Mitchell’s Ice Cream and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. A bevy of volunteers circled the room to meet the demand of those looking to engage in a game of chance, all for a great cause. Our lucky winners — Darius, Ryan, David, April, Cat and Abraham — are going to be eating well real soon.

Stay tuned for news of upcoming fundraisers for the Mission Promise Neighborhood Scholarship Fund, and thanks to all in the community for the ongoing support of this worthy cause.


Can you make college dreams come true for another deserving Mission Promise Neighborhood student?

Please donate today on Razoo.


About Mission Promise Neighborhood

The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

Read More

PolicyLink Blog #2 BlogWhen MEDA received a federal grant in December 2012 to start a Promise Neighborhood at a quartet of low-performing schools in San Francisco’s Mission District, the four-decades-old agency remained at the vanguard of nonprofit best practices by implementing a comprehensive service integration strategy, whereby the families of students are offered free asset-building services. The aim is that every family succeeds and every student achieves, as these two outcomes are intricately linked. Staff know that the stressors of a family in economic distress create obstacles to a student’s academic success.

MEDA is proud to announce that its Mission Promise Neighborhood efforts have been recognized as part of a just-released, 50-page guide from PolicyLink, the Oakland-based, national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity. Entitled Integrating Family Financial Security into Promise Neighborhoods: A Resource and Implementation Guide, this influential work “aims to describe the programs, policies and practices that set families on a path to financial security while achieving prescribed Promise Neighborhoods results.” This guide is part of the Growing Assets Program—generously funded by The Citi Foundation—with the goal of incorporating essential asset-building strategies into the network of Promise Neighborhoods across the nation.

The Citi Foundation offers the needed support so that myriad programs can allow community partners to test, deliver and scale innovative approaches to asset building. These programs are designed to provide consumers with the tools and support they need to achieve their fiscal goals, morphing financial ken into efficacious action. Financial coaching and counseling programs abet consumers to implement financial plans, make payments, increase their savings, reduce debt and build their credit.

The report was co-authored by Alexandra Bastien and Solana Rice. Bastien, the current program associate at PolicyLink, conducts research on policy solutions to address the racial wealth gap and maintains a compendium of resources on strategies to achieve financial security for all. Rice was an associate director for over five years at PolicyLink, where she directed research on asset building and other strategies focused on enhancing economic security in financially challenged communities, particularly communities of color.

Bastien explains the guide’s purpose as follows: “There is substantial research that shows that low-income families can save. Savings and assets are the tools that allow families to withstand financial crisis and invest in their future. In addition, children with a savings account in their own name are 2.5 times more likely to enroll in college than children with no account.”

Pages 30-34 of the guide showcase the case study of MEDA’s best practices relating to the nonprofit’s innovative service integration model that aims to create assets for its low-income, mostly Latino families, who are often immigrants. The guide advises that this insightful case study should serve as an example other Promise Neighborhoods should follow.


One powerful quote from the MEDA case study claims: “Bringing financial education ‘in-house’ to select schools and hubs is filling a significant gap in clients’ knowledge and services. This approach of ‘meeting people where they are’ is proving to be a valuable one and is facilitating MEDA’s entry into new areas of the community and the recruitment of families into the MPN pipeline.“

To start sharing this report’s important data, MEDA’s Director of Asset Building Programs, Christi Baker, has been tasked with leading a presentation on this PolicyLink guide at the Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference, being held this week in Arlington, Virginia.

Also, PolicyLink will be conducting a Webinar July 10th at 11am PT, with information in the guidebook being delved into further. Check back for details.

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