Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood Raquel Donoso on Her Vision for the Community

640x339px_DonosoIn December 2012, MEDA worked with city agencies and 26 neighborhood partners to be the honored recipient of a $30-million federal Department of Education grant 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.

Raquel Donoso, Director, Mission Promise Neighborhood, is now spearheading this innovative initiative.

What background do you bring to leading the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
I was a mom at 18 when I was an undergrad at UCLA. This meant I had to weave my way through a maze of public assistance, from to Medi-Cal to WIC. I also received state-subsidized childcare. Luckily, staff at UCLA helped me find my way. I see my personal experience at UCLA as a microcosm of what we are trying to do with the four target schools of the Mission Promise Neighborhood. Once I had my son, I switched my field of study from Biology to Anthropology and Chicano Studies. I then earned a Masters in Public Health. When I am now at policy meetings, I can literally bring to the table my experience in applying for services. I empathize with how overwhelming this can feel for our families. My goal is to remove barriers and increase opportunity, as was done for me.

What is the greatest challenge of the Mission Promise Neighborhood?
The gentrification in the Mission has added an extra layer of complexity to the Mission Promise Neighborhood. Many of our families have children who go to school in the Mission, but live elsewhere. It then becomes difficult to avail the families of services. Our Family Success Coaches work with many people who are losing their homes. These families are then left with the difficult choice of whether they should move away to somewhere more affordable. A lack of stable housing creates a challenge for the implementation of a place-based strategy.

What are the greatest successes of the Mission Promise Neighborhood to date?
We have been able to rally dozens of organizations, the school district and people at City Hall, so that everyone sees the possibility of positive outcomes for our families and students. It takes time to build a foundation, but this is in the works. The tech tools we have for our Evaluation team means pertinent data can now be had about our clients. This is being rolled out to our Mission Promise Neighborhood partners. We are also focused on a two-generation approach, providing financial opportunities for parents and educational support for their children, leading to even greater community sustainability. Integrating family financial support is a contribution MEDA brings to the table, demonstrating a model for other neighborhoods.

What is your vision for Mission Promise Neighborhood after its initial five-year grant?
I know that with the support of the community, great things will happen. There will be a fully integrated, shared database to better examine the comprehensive community need. We will be able to look at things at a granular level–for example, knowing that a student has started to showcase chronic absenteeism–so that there can be early intervention for an issue before it becomes a chronic problem. There will also be increased support for a college-going culture. That is already starting. With our two-generational approach, as families succeed the students achieve. This is a simultaneous process. Students begin to see opportunities. They then seize these opportunities. That is my vision.


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