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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 30, 201512:00 PM EST

Community Foundation of Northeast Florida will explore how to help Jacksonville's neighborhoods

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by: David Chapman

The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida has provided more than $300 million to area programs and services since the 1960s.

Next year, it plans to expand its work to support an issue needing more help: Jacksonville’s neighborhoods.

The well-known philanthropic organization has hosted more than a dozen focus groups of donors and organizations in the past several months to determine issues within the community.

“Throughout every conversation, the neighborhood thread came out,” said Nina Waters, Community Foundation president.

The message was enough that the foundation’s board recently unanimously approved a push to further support Jacksonville neighborhoods.

Waters said with a topic like neighborhoods, assistance could be as narrow as helping neighborhood associations or as broad as supporting community organizing.

However, details on how the organization will do so are scarce.

“Now we have to dig deeper,” said Waters.

That means first determining what agencies and organizations already are doing for neighborhoods and then finding a way to complement that work. Waters said she expects that effort to take six to eight months.

Board Chair Bill Brinton said it’s a topic he cares deeply about and is happy the foundation decided to pursue it. He attended one of the focus groups to listen, but declined to provide details.

It isn’t the first time the Community Foundation has focused on an issue.

More than a decade ago, it decided to tackle the education achievement gap through its Quality Education for All fund. Grants were administered through the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and were designed to attract and retain high-quality teachers and leaders for public schools.

Waters and Brinton both said it’s clear that effort paid off.

The latest Quality Education for All annual report shows the increase in retention rate for high-performing reading teachers was 11.5 percent and math teachers 16.1 percent year-over-year.

Waters said however, neighborhoods — in a city as large as Jacksonville — will be a challenge.

The Community Foundation already supports neighborhoods through programs like LISC Jacksonville. For 2014-15, LISC received $100,000 from the foundation for neighborhood development strategies.

From 2011-13, the foundation provided $150,000 for a sustainable communities initiative.

Waters said those types of efforts will continue.

The strategic shift comes at a time when City Hall also is focusing on neighborhoods.

Mayor Lenny Curry during his campaign frequently talked about strengthening neighborhoods and making them safer.

One of the main takeaways from his transition team’s work was to re-establish the Neighborhoods Department as a standalone component, which had been reorganized under his predecessor. For now the function still remains under the Housing & Community Development Department.

Waters said one of the first meetings about the organization’s effort will be with the city officials in that area.

A formal announcement on the neighborhoods initiative is expected in February.

[email protected]

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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