Since its move to Queens College in 1996, the Taft Institute has worked with community groups in a variety of ways. One project produced a voter education pamphlet published by the New York Immigration Coalition in 2003. The pamphlet, inspired by a long time leader in the Hispanic community, provided detailed, concrete, nuts-and-bolts information on the process of becoming registered and voting. The Immigration Coalition used the pamphlet as the foundation of its extensive voter education program.
In 2002 the Institute worked with St. Johns University and New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) in the Government Access and Reform Project, aimed at increasing accountability between New York City Council members and new immigrant communities. Sponsored by Verizon, the Project included town hall meetings and voter education.
Community Leadership Training
Beginning in 2002 with generous support from the Hazen Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, New York Community Trust, and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute has organized programs of community leadership training for parents and community leaders in low income, minority, and new immigrant communities to enhance their participation in the New York City Public Schools. The program has involved Latino groups in Queens, Haitian-American and African American groups in Brooklyn, a South Asian group in Queens, and others. Over 200 community activists have participated in the program which has helped them to increase parent participation and to lead successful campaigns in the public school system.
Our strategy includes direct assistance for the groups involved, leadership training, and technical assistance.
Direct assistance, which is the single largest financial category in the program, involves the regranting of funds to participating groups to enable them to carry out educational organizing in their neighborhoods. Typically, the money has gone to hire organizers or to increase the hours of organizers already working.
More specifically, direct assistance has enabled the groups involved to
- Develop strategies for enhancing parent involvement
- Devote resources to understanding and disseminating the implications of the reorganized school system in terms of structure, process, and organizational details
- Identify opportunities for parent involvement in the new system
- Identify the most pressing issues at the level of individual parents, groups of parents, entire schools, and regions
- Create local training workshops
- Create social spaces in which parents can interact to increase knowledge, self confidence, skills, and social capital
Leadership Training Seminars take place every two weeks for eight sessions on the Queens College campus; Professors Krasner and Pierre-Louis teach the classes. Before each class, we provide a hot meal, served buffet style. Children are welcome. The seminars provide essential information and hands-on training on the following topics:
The governmental and political forces influencing New York City public school politics including
- The federal system
- Federal/state/city relations
- New York City’s government and politics
- The History of School Politics in New York City
- The struggle for Community Control
- The Decentralization Act of 1969
- The System of Community School Boards, 1970-1996
- The new, revised system of New York City public school governance
- Parent participation in the new system: Opportunities and Obstacles
- School Curriculum
- Issue definition and research techniques
- Basic Organizing strategies and techniques
- Media relations
In addition, the Pacific Institute for Community Organizing, acting as a subcontractor, provides on site training for large groups and individual training for selected leaders. At their seven-day national institutes and at their local workshops PICO instructors cover a wide range of topics including:
- Power Analysis
- Identifying and Distinguishing Problems and Issues
- Building Relationships with other Groups, Institutions, Officials and Individuals
- Conducting one-to-one meetings
- Recruiting New Leaders
- Maintaining and Strengthening a Grass Roots Organization
As this brief description should make clear, groups are rewarded for expanding the number of involved parents and simultaneously provided the resources to organize parents and to mobilize the community. Thus, the program helps to broaden the organizations’ bases, to strengthen indigenous leadership, to empower individuals, and to avoid leader “burnout.”
Evaluations of the program though anonymous questionnaires and confidential, in-depth, bi-lingual interviews have demonstrated that the program raises participants’ political self confidence and leadership skills and promotes successful campaigning. (These findings have been presented in a social capital theoretical framework at the 2006 Urban Affairs Association Annual Meeting and at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. An article based on this work is currently under review at the refereed journal Education and Urban Society) As the program has developed since its inception in 2002, an advanced leadership training course and a program of technical assistance to participating groups have been added. The advanced course is geared to the issues and campaigns in which groups are currently involved and provides more in-depth training in research, organizing, media relations, and lobbying. Typically groups prepare for actual events such as meeting with legislators.
In a similar vein, our program of technical assistance makes support and advice available through face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and e-mail. This component formalizes the relations that developed after the first training course when technical assistance was not part of the program. As leaders of the participating groups continued to call on the directors of the program for assistance and advice, it became clear that a systematic provision for this activity was needed.
Through a separate, stand alone program the Institute provides technical assistance to new immigrant, minority, and low income community groups in areas ranging from policy research to community organization. Drawing on the resources of Queens College and the City University, this program makes academic expertise and practical knowledge available to groups throughout the New York City region.