Boca And Delray Beach Residents Feeling Optimistic About The Future

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By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

The Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties held its Founder’s Luncheon at the Kravis Center on Tues., May 7, featuring keynote speaker Carol R. Naughton, President of Purpose Built Communities, and presented key findings from their 2018 On The Table Community Impact Report.

On the Table is a national, civic engagement initiative, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and organized by the Community Foundation where thousands of diverse residents from all walks of life gathered to share a meal and discuss ideas to strengthen  their community.

“We all know that all politics are local,” said Sherry Barrat, Board Chair for the Foundation.  “And, we are local, too. Our goal is to support programs in our own backyard.”

Naughton, the keynote speaker, cited studies that indicated that one’s zip code is a better predictor of life expectancy than one’s genetic code.

Referencing the book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,” by Richard Rothstein, she noted that public policies and private actions have created neighborhoods of concentrated poverty across the country.

Data and insights from On the Table go toward strategic planning and future grant-making to neutralize some of these entrenched policies. Data are shared with local decision-makers, organizations and residents to encourage them to collaborate on actions that can improve the quality of life in their city.

Among others, local non-profits that participated in the survey process include Delray Beach-based EJS Foundation, which works with inner-city youth, Boca Raton’s Best Foot Forward, which provides educational opportunities to kids in the foster care system, The Volen Center, which provides social services to seniors, and the YMCA of South Palm Beach County.

For Donna Biase, executive director of Best Foot Forward, housing is a top priority for the approximately 200 children she serves. When they age out of the foster care system at age 18, they are responsible for their own housing.

“Putting these issues of jobs and houses on the table is enlightening,” she said. “It makes it clear that many of these issues are societal issues and not due to an individual’s so-called shortcomings.”

For Emanuel (Dupree) Jackson, the founder of EJS, hearing the concerns of his community residents was enlightening. Many voiced appreciation for the non-profits that served them and to which they relied on for social service assistance such as filling out applications.

Kimberly Trombly-Burmeister, director of development for the YMCA of South Palm Beach County said, “As a local non-profit, being a participant is how we create a stronger community.”

The YMCA had three participant tables at their Boca location and another one in the Boynton Beach Y.

“The roundtable discussion allows us to collectively identify our strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “The process alone is a huge success; our community is stronger when we come together.”

She particularly valued the open discussions on how to improve the community.

“The brainstorming sessions were fabulous,” Trombly-Burmeister said. “It was great to hear from other residents that had lived elsewhere, that our county is one of the most philanthropic communities in the country.”

While over 4,000 residents participated, over 900 residents completed the surveys last October, which revealed a number of key findings:

Most people are largely hopeful about the future and see their community as more united than divided, although this varies by region.

In South Palm Beach County, including cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach, 67 percent of respondents reported feeling hopeful about the future, as compared to 33 percent who stated they were “worried” about the future.

The most hopeful residents were those in Martin County, where 76 percent said they were hopeful, compared to only 24 percent who said they were “worried.”

Housing emerged as the number one priority across the region, with 46 percent of participants in South Palm Beach County naming it a priority, followed by 30 percent who cited affordable healthcare, 28 percent who cited good jobs and economic development as a priority, followed by 27 percent who cited crime, violence and public safety.

Participants identified job training, skills development opportunities, the availability  of good-paying jobs and increased wages as the most important priorities to help drive change on the economic front.

On the social conditions and health front, respondents called for access to quality affordable housing, access to core services for all and services to address homelessness.

The three most important priorities to improve youth development and education were identified as job/vocational training for youth, quality schools with quality teachers, and affordable, quality child care and preschool.

In South Palm Beach County, health and social conditions (69 percent) outweighed economic conditions (67 percent) and youth development and education (63 percent).

The next On the Table is scheduled for Nov. 13. For more information visit:  onthetablefl.com or yourcommunityfoundation.org