The first in a series of network meetings was held last week to strengthen relationships and organize a large-scale collaboration plan for revitalization of the city of Winter Garden’s eastside community.
The city sponsored and Polis Institute facilitated the meeting Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Healthy West Orange facility in Winter Garden with about 60 community leaders and representatives from local nonprofits and other community organizations.
There were three main goals for this inaugural meeting: to improve the community’s communication network to ensure all residents and all organizations have up-to-date information on activities, opportunities and services; to establish shared goals that residents and organizations actively work toward together; and to enhance a shared system of accountability so residents and organizations actively know what advances are being made in community revitalization and how everyone can best support the common vision of a fully revitalized community.
City Manager Jon C. Williams told attendees each one of them is critical to the success of the revitalization efforts.
“I assure you the city is committed to be a partner along the way,” Williams said. “We just have to remember that Rome was not built in a day.”
Dr. Bahíyyah Maroon is a cultural anthropologist and CEO of Polis Institute.
“My job follows in the footsteps of (Zora Neal Hurston’s) giant love for the African-American community,” Maroon said. “When we come and work with communities at Polis Institute … we want to leave communities better than when we came — and we leave the communities with all the capacity they need to lead themselves. (But) sometimes the job of Polis works slower than people want. … If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, you need to go with everybody.”
Folks in attendance spoke about their organizations, and a master list was created. They represented groups such as the American Heart Association, Peace and Justice institute at Valencia College, Circles, Maxey Community Center, area businesses, local churches that work with children at the Maxey and at Winter Garden schools, Community Health Centers, YMCA of Central Florida, West Orlando Habitat for Humanity, the West Orange Healthcare District, Poverty Solutions Group, Goodwill, Health By Design USA, Shepherd’s Hope, I Am Her ministry, Grow Orlando, Edgewood Children’s Ranch and Orange County Government.
There were east Winter Garden residents, some who have lived here their entire lives; and a few represented One Winter Garden, a new community group that focuses on governmental relations.
“I’ve worked with just about every organization there is, (and I’ve) organized many of them,” said Charlie Mae Wilder, a 46-year resident of east Winter Garden and a longtime community advocate. “It is a blessing to be here and work these with these young people and to see we need training and to get rid of the violence we see.”
Harriette Bouler, who was born on 10th Street and raised on Center Street, also attended the meeting. She remained in Winter Garden after graduating from Charles R. Drew High School
Another resident left east Winter Garden for college and the military but returned home.
“It was and still is a wonderful place to live, and my hope for this organization is they’re going to help east Winter Garden,” she said.
Officer James McLeod and Capt. Anthony Dawkins of the Winter Garden Police Department talked about their role in east Winter Garden. The two were assigned to east Winter Garden in 2005-06 to interact with the residents. McLeod recently was assigned there again as a community police officer.
“The Winter Garden Police Department definitely is passionate about building relationships,” Dawkins said. “It takes more than just the police department; it takes the community and partnerships. Our role as part of the city is to build relationships and identify problems. … It’s not about policing the community, it’s about engaging the community.”
Lesa Boettcher, chief operating officer of the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange, and Erika Feazell, community resource specialist for HUBB, shared information about these programs.
Foundation for a Healthier West Orange is the parent organization, which powers the Healthy West Orange initiative.
HUBB connects residents with free and reduced-cost programs and critical assistance programs and can be accessed three ways: at the small resource center at 1200 E. Plant St., Winter Garden; through satellite services; and virtually at healthwestorange.org.
“This conversation is one of many conversations,” Maroon said of the gathering. “One of the most important things you can do as a business leader, a nonprofit executive, a municipal leader, as we go forward … if we do our work well, the composition of this room needs to change. As we move forward, for every executive, there should be two to three constituents they serve.”
Her final question to the group: “Every time you’re in a room to have a discussion about community representation, does the composition of the room match the composition of the community being represented?”
The next work session will have a hands-on format in October, and the discussion will be on assessing which community organizations offer services that overlap and finding where programs might be able to merge.
“We will lead collaboratively and purposely,” said William A. Jefferson, Polis’ community project director.