Reflection on the 25th history of an organization the made history
It is a story of what can happen when community leaders recognize fissures were developing in the community culture and believe in the grassroots to identify and help identify issues and solutions.
It was an idea whose time had not come throughout the country yet, but Community Vision, working in the background built something called social capital. Social capital is hard to measure, but exists when systems and trust is in place to come together in good times and in bad. Trust and a spirit of cooperation are the keys to addressing big issues collaboratively. There needs to be a neutral facilitator of collective impact. Community Vision, a small professional organization has played that vital role for the past 25 years ago.
Working out of my living room, with a core group of volunteers, a process was developed to welcome new ideas, identify issues and engage residents from every walk of life in the creation of a shared vision. This inclusive process involved 75 volunteer facilitators (reflective of the community), 150 small vision groups, 1,000 surveys, presentations and ultimately a big vision day (attended by over 500 people) to bring it all together. Over 3,000 participated when the population was under 100K at that time.
This is the statement that reflected the shared sentiment… the hope for tomorrow… We are a proud, caring community that celebrates our diversity, environment and heritage while using a sensitive and energetic approach in shaping our future.
The work did not end there. There were strategies garnered from the vision process participants. Nine action teams developed over 80 plans to get us there. An inclusive board met monthly to oversee what was supposed to be a five-year project. They embrace the mission statement “to bring people and resources together to achieve the community’s vision.” Detractors became more than believers, they engaged. Government, business and the nonprofit sectors all joined hands and rolled up their sleeves embracing a vision for a brighter tomorrow together. A community profile was the starting point and subsequent report cards measured progress. There was a commitment to take the pulse of the community regularly and report the results to policy makers and leaders so the voices of the many were heard. This publication is the genesis of that commitment a quarter of a century later. Tupperware Brands has provided Community Vision with a signature piece of Tupperware with the Community Vision logo topping it as an incentive to fill out the lengthy survey – the only logo in the world to occupy that spot. Participants not only walked away with a great gift but also a sense of civic engagement rarely offered.
What does it take to turn ideas into action?
· Leadership development
· Community health
· Poverty elimination
· Community cohesion
Leadership development involved training for emerging and existing leaders on all the elements that impact a community, such as environment and economic development, education and health, government, etc. A day spent immersed in each. When grant funding there was HS Teen Leadership, MS Youth Leadership and Leadership Legends for seniors. Thousands were trained, and because of the inclusiveness, important bonds formed across occupation, race, and ethnicities.
Community Health allowed Community Vision to build the infrastructure for free clinics with key partners and generous donors. We even had a Mobile Medical Express on the road to unserved communities. The work continued under the direction of the 45-member Health Leadership Council.
Poverty elimination efforts utilized key partnerships in training homeless, displaced, precariously housed and low-income providers. Over 500 earned a skillset allowing for new higher wage careers in health care, construction, and advanced manufacturing… impacting over 700 children. We believe the Project OPEN formula, named as a national best practice by HUD, breaks the cycle of poverty. Empowerment2employment, working primarily with corrections instilled soft skills, employment training and on-going coaching to former inmates aiding them in becoming an employed, contributing members of society.
Community cohesion focused Community Vision on civic engagement. Together we teamed up with government and business volunteers to build nine KaBOOM! playgrounds in struggling neighborhoods countywide. Discover Osceola was an event that happened every two years, where the community came together to showcase what make Osceola so special. With help from over 30 entities, we filled Osceola Heritage Park with displays, activities, and ways to engage in community. Up to 12,000 attendees enjoyed creative themes including, Superheroes, Back to the Future and the Wizard of Ozceola!
Community Vision – More than brick and mortar
After a couple of years, it was impossible to continue to work out of my living room. Tupperware Brands provided our first home. I was honored to occupy the office of their original visionary, Brownie Weis. It was awesome space with a modern meeting room and other amenities. My staff grew by a few, and in 2004, Hurricane Charlie took out the historic building that had been our home. As one hurricane after another hit the county, in temporary quarters we found out we had been awarded a multi-million-dollar HRSA grant. Osceola Regional Medical Center offered a non-occupied doctor’s office, which needed a little love. We soon had it transformed and buzzing. Offices were former exam rooms so everyone had a sink. We operated on the corner of John Young Parkway and Pleasant Hill Road for five years until the Osceola Council on Aging offered us a first-floor space on a new building on their campus. Unfortunately, mold moved in after we did, and Community Vision was on the move again. This time it was as a tenant of the Small Business Incubator in downtown Kissimmee. It was a couple of years before we were back home again.
What was supposed to be a five-year project prepared to celebrate a 25th birthday in 2020. It was also the year I announced I would retire. A special Future’s Committee met and after much deliberation, with the full support of staff, recommended that it was time for Community Vision to sunset. My talented staff has found employment in the nonprofit sector and will be carrying on programs with key organizations throughout the community. Our once Valencia intern won the prestigious National Science Foundation award with a generous fellowship and will soon seek his PhD.
After a quarter of a century these are personal recommendations going forward.
The community must stay together and collaborate especially with need overwhelming resources. Trust is a precious commodity. Ambition amid scarce dollars can destroy what makes Osceola County so special. Our community has an earned regional reputation for cooperation and action.
Government must continue to be engaged and fund promising initiatives to reduce poverty, partnering on grants and advocating for regional dollars. It is the most challenging issue facing the community. During times like this various contingencies may not see the benefit of this investment.
Growth and economic development efforts are vital, it is a constant theme in our surveys but so are assets that make the community livable transportation improvements, green space and planned activities. Families do not have enough money to go to the theater, but they will turn out but the thousands to a downtown movie event. Festivals, concerts, events in the park may seem frivolous, but they build social capital and provide a sense of place. They should be increased, not decreased post pandemic. After, and during hard times, community celebrations go a long way in restoring unity.
The little things are important… like the graffiti squads that go out each morning to remove or paint out graffiti. Crime prevention through neighborhood engagement is key. When a camera was installed to discouraged drug dealers, every night they shot out the streetlight that shone on their illegal activities. Each morning a Kissimmee Utility Authority truck pulled up and replaced the light. This happened night after night, day after day, until the drug dealers moved on and the community won out over crime.
Keeping a finger on the community pulse is imperative. This and past Community Vision reports have given voice to those who think themselves voiceless. It takes a great deal of commitment to be at so many events (from one end of the county to the other) necessary to get representative participation, then input data of all those 10-page surveys, professional analytics and ultimately publication. It is well worth the effort and expense. Our survey is comprehensive. Making decisions related to complicated issues is increasing difficult for local leaders. The complexity is exacerbated in a county like Osceola County with a low tax base, and a lack of corporate headquarters, where there is usually more investment in social issues and engagement on non-profit boards. Having a resource available that provides honest citizen feedback on a wide variety of issues is a powerful resource. Decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. Some community organizations need to step into the void Community Vision leaves in this area. As technology has improved so has our ability to crosstab results. The potential of this report only grows. Community Vision’s last report will be forthcoming and publicly presented when live government meetings can take place and details streamed.
The past 25 years have been exhilarating, many times stressful, but always rewarding. I have employed amazing, talented and committed community advocates. We all left the community a little better than we found it. There have been generous donors and devoted volunteers. It could not be done without both. The success of Community Vision demonstrates the concept of collective impact, the power of a shared vision, focused goals, and an organization nimble enough to take advantage of a passing opportunity. Community Vision operated in the background, caring little about whom took credit. I thank everyone who played a part in this adventure and remind all that the path to a preferred future lays ahead. Community building cannot be a spectator sport!
Donna Sines, Former Founder and Executive Director
When life returns to normal, Donna plans to use expertise, gained over a successful 34-year career, as facilitator and strategist, to benefit other communities and non-profits regionally, and nation-wide. Contact Donna via email: VisionarySines@gmail.com