10,000-Hour Challenge Shines Light on Pioneering Activities

Daniel Davis

Motivated by a desire to recognize pioneering initiatives within the community development field, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis launched the 10,000-Hour Challenge in April 2010. Community development professionals across the country were encouraged to collectively dedicate themselves to 10,000 hours of innovation in community development work. The progress of the initiative was presented to attendees at the Exploring Innovation conference.

Since the kickoff of the Challenge, community-based organizations, financial institutions, government agencies and academic entities have logged more than 70,000 hours of community development innovation. The accumulated hours represent initiatives from every corner of the Eighth District and also offer a sampling of best practices from across the United States; some participating entries are described below.

We congratulate these and all of our Challenge participants on their innovative approaches to community development.

Little Rock Zone

Community Development Institute Central (CDI Central)

Web site: uca.edu/cdi

The Community Development Institute Central (CDI Central), located at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, hosts Innovation Luncheons during the organization’s summer institutes to bring together experts from the arenas of rural development, environmental issues and civic engagement. These experts take part in a facilitated discussion to identify ways that CDI Central can integrate fresh ideas into training curriculum designed for community and economic development professionals.

Southern Bancorp

Web site: banksouthern.com

Southern Bancorp in Arkadelphia, Ark., closed on a $5-million equity investment from the Kellogg Foundation. The investment, representing a new type of philanthropy, allows Southern Bancorp to increase its geographic footprint and enhance efforts to revitalize rural communities in the Mississippi Delta.

Louisville Zone

Breaking New Grounds

Web site: www.breakingnewgrounds.org

Breaking New Grounds is committed to creating jobs and changing West Louisville’s status as a food desert. The organization takes wood chips, spent distillery grains and debris from coffee shops, and turns it all into compost, which they sell to private gardeners and use in their own urban gardens initiatives. Volunteers and residents work with YouthBuild participants to create gardens in the community’s empty lots, with the aim of improving the soil, raising food products for sale and consumption, and providing jobs.

The Housing Partnership Inc.

Web site: www.wearehpi.org
Take a look at The Housing Partnership’s St. Denis Senior Apartments.

Innovations at The Housing Partnership’s St. Denis Senior Apartments have made the complex Louisville’s first and largest multifamily Energy Star-rated building. In addition to “recycling” an empty Catholic school building, crews repurposed more than 1.93 million pounds of materials—including 20 tons of metals, 254 tons of concrete from footings, foundations and sidewalks, and nearly 700 tons of asphalt—in building this low-income apartment community. Features that have contributed to the quick leasing of (and waiting list for) all 34 units include the following:

  • After extensive asbestos removal, the existing school wing was turned into energy-efficient apartments.
  • Installing noise-reducing windows lessened traffic sounds from a nearby busy roadway.
  • Crews preserved art created by the former students, and placed the pieces in the finished apartments. A niche created by moving the door of a former classroom is now home to a colorful portrait of St. Denis. The portrait’s artist also painted the lobby ceiling with houses and fleurs de lis—reminders that St. Denis is now home to so many Louisville residents. (The fleur de lis symbolizes the city’s French ties.)
  • A sunny strip of land behind the school wing has been turned into a resident garden. In partnership with YouthBuild, crews created five accessible, raised garden beds to accommodate residents with limited mobility—as well as their visiting grandchildren. Volunteers planted last spring’s first crops, which were cared for by residents.

In addition, 16 solar collectors on St. Denis’s roof annually harness over 82 million BTUs of free, clean energy from the sun. This energy is then transferred into a tank to pre-heat fresh water before it is fed to a traditional gas-fired supplemental water-heating system, providing the most efficient energy capture possible. Requiring virtually no maintenance, the fully automated system optimizes energy savings while ensuring plentiful hot water for the building. The system saves each resident up to $160 annually. Besides enjoying the low utility costs, residents can be proud of the environmental benefits their building provides. One of Kentucky’s largest solar hot-water installations, the St. Denis system will ultimately keep more than 450,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, according to estimates—the carbon equivalent of 40 cars burning over 23,000 gallons of gasoline.

The Steward’s Staff

Web site: www.stewardstaff.org
Hear youth and school administrators give an account of how The Steward’s Staff programming has made a real impact.

The Steward’s Staff mission is to empower youth and young adults through leadership development, community engagement and positive reinforcement of self-esteem. The Steward’s Staff stands out by promoting diverse dialogues around ethnicity, socioeconomic status and community during the adolescent years. The group focuses on interpersonal development and community engagement designed to empower the next generation to think critically, ethically and with compassion, and build productive, sustainable communities by caring for others. As of August 2011, The Steward’s Staff has served over 320 youth, awarded five scholarships and two computers, and escorted 50 youths on a college tour in Tennessee. Further, the youth leadership program, The ETHICS Society, won a $1,000 Youth Venture grant sponsored by Metro United Way, which immediately helped the youth in hosting bi-monthly forums demonstrating alternatives to participating in violent acts. The forums concluded with implementing an annual anti-violence conference.

Memphis Zone

Power Center Academy

Web site: www.powercentercdc.org

To address the decline of businesses and the high foreclosure and bankruptcy rates in the community, the Power Center CDC established Power Center Academy (PCA), a charter school in Memphis. PCA instills the concepts of entrepreneurship and financial literacy in its 6th- to 8th-grade students by engaging them through project-based learning and real-world applications, such as PCA’s Youth Bank, the first youth-operated SunTrust Bank branch in Memphis.

Mississippi Workforce University Web Portal

Web site: www.rcu.msstate.edu

The goal: Simplify the process of locating resources for workforce development. The plan: Create the Mississippi Workforce University Web Portal by Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit for Workforce Development. The Portal centralizes information about workforce development service providers across the state of Mississippi and models best practices by using inexpensive or free technology tools to develop and deliver online training modules.

St. Louis Zone

Habitat for Humanity St. Louis

Web site: www.habitatstl.org
Watch a video highlighting the green features and providing an overview of the homes built by Habitat for Humanity St. Louis.

Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis (HFHSL) has been committed to building simple, decent and affordable housing, in partnership with deserving families, for the last 25 years. That vision has now moved beyond building homes and expanded to include a positive transformation in local neighborhoods and communities through sustainable residential building. The primary goals for the HFHSL program are to build efficient, healthy, affordable, durable and low-maintenance homes for families. The program also educates build partners on sustainable building practices. Finally, the program helps the organization improve their process from Energy Star to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes.

The success of each annual build depends on an integrated design process, which involves a design charrette and monthly meetings for the project team. This high level of communication and interaction assists in the creation of an efficient design build and improves coordination of the project site. It is clear that the integrated design process has been critical to move HFHSL’s build standards from Energy Star (2007 and earlier) to LEED (since 2008). HFHSL’s commitment to building residential housing to the highest of LEED standards demonstrates that green homes can be built at affordable costs. While HFHSL builds homes in neighborhoods that have established amenities, such as bus stops, retailers, educational facilities, churches and parks, the group believes that the addition of a much needed quality residential component can be the tipping point to revitalize area communities. The homes improve the health and livelihood of the renters and their neighbors by providing a healthier indoor air quality, a safe home environment and increased neighborhood property values.

Additionally, because HFHSL relies on volunteer labor to help build each house, volunteers have the opportunity to learn the basics of green home building. In some instances, volunteers duplicate those efforts in their own homes. HFHSL’s build program has evolved from Energy Star to become the largest developer of single-family detached residential housing certified to LEED Platinum standards (according to U.S. Green Building Council statistics). By meeting the highest LEED standards, HFHSL demonstrates that perseverance, innovation and a step-by-step approach can improve previously successful builds to an even better environment for both the individual homebuyer and the community at large.

Center for the Acceleration of African American Business (CAAAB)

Web site: www.caaab.org
See an overview of Parents as Entrepreneurs.

The Center for the Acceleration of African American Business (CAAAB) created the Parents as Entrepreneurs program to use entrepreneurship and community business development as tools to enhance parental and civic engagement. This knowledge-based and hands-on model is designed to create wealth among community members in north St. Louis, enhance social and academic skills among their children, and foster overall community development. CAAAB developed this program in collaboration with Clay Elementary School in north St. Louis, a school that has increasingly below-basic MAP scores among 4th- and 5th-graders. According to the school’s principal, this trend was especially evident during MAP testing among children who were dealing with adversities such as homelessness.

Thus, Parents as Entrepreneurs was developed as a pilot program to relieve economic distress among parents and guardians, and to foster academic achievement among their children. The program is divided into three phases. Phase 1 consists of eight weeks of rigorous curriculum-based entrepreneurship training. Topics include:

  • the “why” behind having a business;
  • strong credit history and access to capital;
  • considerations of different legal nuances and structures that are part of a business start-up and operation; and
  • how to write a professional and persuasive business plan.

Phase 2 includes six weeks of one-on-one business development and enhancement consulting, where participants are guided through writing and fulfilling each aspect of the business plan and preparing for start-up. Participants are also linked to various resources that are necessary for entrepreneurship and business start-up (e.g., credit counseling and financial management, fulfilling legal and accounting matters, soft skills, etc.).

In Phase 3, the participants are guided one-on-one to fulfill all logistical and official requirements for business start-up, including the acquisition of operation space (if needed). The participants are also directed to various sources for access to capital and guided through all presentations. Finally, the program makes sure that everything is in line for the actual start-up.

Beyond the Eighth District

Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity

Web site: www.csequity.org
Cincinnati citizen journalists profile this unique program in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.

Renter EquitySM is an alternative to homeownership for people who need affordable rental housing in Cincinnati. Renter Equity, created by the Cornerstone Corporation for Shared Equity, links housing development and management with a wealth-building tool for economically disadvantaged households. It was created to sustain housing values, stabilize neighborhoods and build wealth by bringing renters into the property system.

Those who need affordable housing typically have no savings and depend on public programs in emergencies. Renter Equity enables them to plan for personal and financial growth. As part of their lease contract, residents earn “equity credits” each month that they pay their rent on time. Renters must attend the resident association meeting and also complete work assignments that maintain and improve the common areas. Credits build on an amortized schedule and can be worth up to $10,000 in 10 years. Renters receive a monthly statement telling them the value of the credits they have earned. After five years, they may withdraw cash or take out a loan using their credits as collateral.

Cornerstone has no restrictions on how participants can benefit from Renter Equity. Some participants have used it to weather job loss, pay medical bills or education expenses, escape from predatory lenders, start a business, or buy a home. Renter Equity works because it increases occupancy and rent collection rates above what is typical for rental housing, generating income that would not otherwise exist. This added value is invested in a financial fund controlled by the manager that backs the renters’ equity credits. The fund may also be capitalized with grants, donations or an operating reserve. The ability to make a contribution to the community, build assets and gain access to credit gives economically disadvantaged people real hope for a better future.


Web site: www.earn.org

San Francisco-based EARN developed WealthCare, a program that focuses on helping low-wage clients improve financial behaviors over time through the use of financial coaching. The program is a structured approach to imbuing the financial behaviors known to promote control and leverage of finances in a manner that promotes wealth accumulation. WealthCare demonstrates that by focusing on eliciting and repeating desirable financial behaviors over time, low-wage workers can build economic prosperity in a sustained way.

homeWORD Inc.

Web site: www.homeWORD.org
Read a Bridges article by homeWORD staff.

Solstice-Confluence is the newest development by homeWORD Inc. in Missoula, Mont. Construction began in September 2010 and is slated to be completed in October 2011. Solstice will have 34 units of affordable housing, targeting households at 40 to 60 percent of the area median income. Confluence will have 16,000 square feet of commercial space to be leased, below market rate, to other mission-sharing, Missoula-based nonprofits. This development incorporates many innovative elements, including being the first in Montana to:

  • combine Low Income Housing Tax Credits and New Markets Tax Credits within the same project;
  • obtain a mixed-use grey water system permit; and
  • earn commercial/affordable housing mixed-use LEED Gold certification. homeWORD has a fundamental commitment to developing energy- and resource-efficient housing.

Other innovations include:

  • Community involvement—homeWORD conducted a neighborhood charrette for the whole project to get feedback and design ideas from community members. The neighborhood charrette process is a design meeting for the public where community members come together to brainstorm ideas around the design and development of the proposed project. The project was also designed with added community processes, such as an eco-design charrette and a universal design charrette. The meetings’ ideas and perspectives informed the overall design process and final products.
  • Neighborhood revitalization—The two-phase project was designed and constructed in a designated revitalization area of Missoula at a site that was previously a “greyfield,” primarily covered by asphalt paving. homeWORD’s expertise and experience in housing development demonstrates best methods for redeveloping greyfield and reinvigorating neighborhoods, and  the Solstice project promotes reinvestment in other greyfield areas in the same Missoula corridor and across the state.
  • Economic development—Solstice provides a new space for homeWORD’s HomeOwnership Center (HOC). The HOC helps homeWORD serve more people in the community, especially underserved groups, through homebuyer and financial education as well as foreclosure prevention counseling. HOC offers an accessible learning environment using current communication technology. A training room will be shared by mission-related nonprofits.


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