By Joe and Heidi White, Jackson CDC

Neighborhood Hubs are a key component of Fresno DRIVE’s Neighborhood Development – Civic Infrastructure initiative, a groundbreaking civic infrastructure approach attracting national attention.

Neighborhood Hubs facilitate opportunities for residents to connect, and develop residents’ leadership skills to both speak and take action into the changes they want to see in their community.

The Jackson Neighborhood, located in Southeast Fresno, is home to 3,300 neighbors and 923 homes between First and Cedar and Tulare and Ventura. When a small group of residents began collaborating to begin to address some of Jackson’s greatest challenges, they realized that their neighbors had so many good ideas about how to solve them. They also realized that institutions typically served their neighborhood’s perceived needs without listening to their actual needs. In response, they utilized the best practices of asset-based community development and created the Jackson Community Development Corporation (JCDC) in collaboration with residents to listen to their neighbors as well as utilize their gifts and passions for creative solutions that address real neighborhood problems. They also prioritized collaboration with Neighborhood Church – a local church in Jackson as well as other churches, non-profits, and the City of Fresno with the fundamental belief that partnership is the only way to catalyze sustainable change in Jackson. Jackson CDC is entirely resident-led. Their board and staff all live in the Jackson neighborhood and every single one of their initiatives was created and is sustained by neighborhood volunteers.

They offer their neighbors a place to put their ideas into action – which is an expression of civic infrastructure deeply compatible with Fresno DRIVE.  

Because the JCDC is committed to listening to their residents and experimenting with their solutions to solve some of their neighborhood’s great challenges, they have been able to observe what can happen when people with no formal training work together to make things happen. They’ve seen neighbors self-determining their own change in collaboration with others through coordinated efforts with City Hall to improve multiple neighborhood infrastructure issues. They’ve seen the growth of a Jackson Neighborhood Association that doesn’t just gripe about problems or talks endlessly about “what needs to be done,” but they take strategic action that leads to transformation. They are literally knocking on every door and sitting down with residents to learn from them, empower them, and give them a place to feel connected, listened to, and valued. And because they didn’t start with “what their neighbors need” but instead “what their neighbors have,”  they’ve been able to build a large coalition of willing volunteer residents who want to use their strengths and aspirations to create lasting change in Jackson in a coordinated way.

For example, in the last five months the JCDC board, staff, and resident leaders have documented 80 one-on-one listening conversations with neighbors and have trained residents on how to do them with their neighbors. This is creating a wealth of information about resident strengths, assets, passions, and concerns that helps inform the work the JCDC does in the neighborhood and how to integrate and empower residents in that work. The JCDC has built and maintained a strong and critical partnership with Jackson Elementary School and continues to bring important resources and support to students and teachers through a variety of programs and initiatives such as Off the Front (a fourth grade earn-a-bike program focusing on healthy eating and fitness), Literacy Mentoring of first grade students who are struggling in reading, and building staff morale and support through staff appreciations. Over the last several months the JCDC has collected 200+ surveys from residents on issues related to traffic safety in the neighborhood and transit-oriented development along Ventura-Kings Canyon, which is the southern boundary of the neighborhood. In response to the survey results, the JCDC is planning to host a PlayStreets event through the Jackson Neighborhood Association  in April. This event will involve partially blocking-off two streets in the neighborhood in front of Jackson Elementary that have been deemed traffic safety “hot spots” by the survey results. By turning unsafe streets and intersections into a massive block party, the JCDC hopes this event will bring greater resident awareness to traffic safety and walkability issues around the elementary school, as well as provide residents with an example of what they can host on their blocks at the traffic “hot spots” near their homes. This event will also provide multiple opportunities for collaborations between Jackson residents, Jackson Elementary and Roosevelt High School, churches and businesses in the neighborhood, and our District 5 Councilmember’s office, as well as move the needle forward on the JCDC’s Safe Streets Initiative happening through the Jackson Neighborhood Association. Finally, the JCDC is working with the City of Fresno on its transit-oriented development work along the Ventura-Kings Canyon corridor, because the JCDC is a key inroad into gleaning resident input for development along our city’s key Opportunity Corridor.  All of this (and more) is possible because the JCDC lives out the simple premise that when residents lead the charge, hope-filled change emerges.

Fresno DRIVE’s Civic Infrastructure Initiative currently has eight other Neighborhood Hubs doing similar work in their respective neighborhoods. Click here to learn more about Fresno DRIVE and find features of the other Neighborhood Hubs here.