OneCranston Initiative Director plans Jan. 26 networking event

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With the start of the New Year, OneCranston has formally introduced their new Initiative Director, Ayana Crichton. Formerly an employee of the Cranston Public Schools as director of their after-school, summer, and vacation programming for students, Crichton joins a team representing many Cranston public, private and non-profit organizations. She also has a team of three Community Engagement Specialists working with her: Arelis Pena Brito, Chanara Yen and Aderonke Agboola.

The OneCranston initiative was born as a result of a grant from Boston Federal Bank Reserve’s Working Cities Challenge. Their goal is to unite the city, often known for its great east/west divide which originally started as a sports rivalry generations ago and has evolved into more in years since, by pulling together the efforts of the citizens as well as public, private and non-profit organizations, for the betterment of all.

“Cities interested in applying for the grant were asked to gather together as many partnerships from the public and private sector who would work together to address the issues affecting their city,” Crichton explained.  “The grants generally ranged from $300,000 to $500,000 which would be awarded to start the initiatives in the winning cities. They were looking for grant applications whose groups were looking to create systems of changes for their cities, which would address the issues their cities were facing. The groups could be made up of private businesses, school departments, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, and residents.”

At the first meeting for the first round of the grant application, thanks to the all-call from Cranston’s director of libraries, Ed Garcia, Crichton stated that there were many in the room representing all types of businesses and organizations, who either provide services or work with citizens, and that there was a positive energy to that first meeting.

“It provided us the opportunity to talk about the issues facing our city and we had a lot of positive conversations and a lot of excitement, all talking about how to create opportunities for our citizens:  job opportunities, youth opportunities, post-secondary opportunities, and how to recognize the melting pot that is Cranston,” she said. “We met a lot. We went to full day Working Cities trainings and meetings, and listened to other groups talk about their vision. We started with 13 cities and we got to hear from each team and the ideas that they were thinking of doing. There was really strong support from Working Cities. In the end, seven cities made it through the first round and Cranston was one of them.”

As the second round of the application process began, CCAP agreed to become the Lead Agency, providing a space for OneCranston and serving as the fiscal agent. The next level of the application process involved a great deal of data-gathering, residential input and more partnerships. OneCranston, as they were now called, presented a February Speak Out, which invited residents to come and share their thoughts about their city: what they liked or didn’t, where they felt safe or didn’t, what they wished might change and what they celebrated and hoped would never change. A survey was sent out as well, asking those same questions and 400 more citizens responded to that, offering their input.

The second round of the application involved a great deal ofdata-gathering, residential input and more partnerships. OneCranston, as they were now called, presented a February Speak Out, which invited residents to come and share their thoughts about their city: what they liked or didn’t, where they felt safe or didn’t, what they wished might change and what they celebrated and hoped would never change. A survey was sent out as well, asking those same questions and 400 more citizens responded to that, offering their input.

In addition, a large map was posted during the event, and participants could place stickers to indicate their favorite places, places they felt safe and places where they did not. What Crichcton noticed, was that the east/west divide was really more of a north/south issue, with the red stickers of concern being in the northern part of the city rather than the eastern, and with many green stickers of favorite places being placed in the eastern side of the city, highlighting favorite places in Garden City, Edgewood and Pawtuxet Village.

“It really helped us to get the temperature of the city and to hear what it was that people were talking about,” Crichton said. “We came up with four factors. The first was about community building and identifying leaders. How do we identify community leaders, educate community folks to become leaders, how do we foster leadership and encourage leadership and use that foundation to our advantage to create change? The second factor was around youth opportunity, looking at our district and state goals and seeing where supports are needed outside of school to help meet those goals, using out-of-school, summer learning and opportunities after 5:00 p.m., to help bridge achievement gaps. The third factor was around workforce opportunity. We want our students to be able to thrive in our community and to come back and work in our city because there are opportunities for them here. There are over 3600 businesses registered in our city, we want to know what types of skills our employers need and then what types of skills our employees need.”

Crichton stated that the fourth factor was one that they called “Faces and Places.”

“We want to celebrate who we have here and get to know them. We want to hear from all folks, those who have always lived here and those who just moved here. We want to know where the good is, where the positivity is so that we can back up and support everyone,” she said. “We want to create a sense of belonging.”

To that end, OneCranston will host its first 2018 event, an evening of networking to be held at a Cranston business, The Artists’ Exchange at 50 Rolfe Square on January 26 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The Business Card Happy Hour has a goal of connecting and engaging the citizens of Cranston.

“We are looking to engage more folks, to connect residents and businesses with each other, and to get more folks involved. We’d like people to come together and celebrate what they do,” she said. “We are intentionally having it there, because Rolfe Street really is like a downtown area of Cranton with so many businesses and it’s also an international food hub. The executive director, Elaine McKenna-Yeaw has been so supportive of our efforts, is part of our team and has donated the space.”

The event will have drinks, food, raffles, and networking and guests are asked to bring business cards or information to share.

“OneCranston is really looking for social cohesion, we are looking to embrace our diversity by bringing people together. We are hoping that through this initiative we will be able to support lower income, minority residents and engage those residents as well as engaging all residents throughout our city,” said Crichton. “At this event we will be introducing ourselves, the players, and recruiting as many people as we can to help engage our businesses, our citizens, and our partners. We have people and places doing amazing things in our city and we want to put systems in place to connect people, to create a dialogue. It will happen because of what we have going on here in Cranston.”

For more information about OneCranston or to RSVP to the event call 258-9538.

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