The Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) is a resident-led, resident-driven initiative that aims to address the social determinants of health through policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to increase access to healthy food, increase opportunities for physical activity, and improve student outcomes. The Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) designed and manages the initiative, which began in July 2015. CGPS developed a strategic RFP process to select five community anchor organizations to drive change at the local level. The following communities were selected:

  1. United Way of Greater Topeka: Echo Ridge, Pine Ridge, Deer Creek
  2. United Way of Reno County: SW Bricktown
  3. Thrive Allen County: Allen County
  4. Communities Creating Opportunity: Wyandotte County (Zipcodes 66101 & 66102)
  5. Wichita State University Foundation: Historic Fairmount Neighborhood

After the organizations were selected, they hired Community Liaisons to lead resident engagement and partnership development. During the planning phase, the communities held community-visioning sessions, where they developed a vision for the community, selected five community priorities and drafted a Community Action Plan (CAP). The priorities were PSE changes that would address social determinants in their communities, such as community safety, job growth, transportation, and food access. Immediately following the community visioning sessions, the communities had successes. For example, the day after the community visioning session in SW Bricktown, city managers painted the crosswalks in front of a local elementary that residents said was a safety hazard.

After each community selected one priority to test as a pilot initiative, a second round of community conversations were held for updates and to determine if the initiatives were on the right track. After integrating community feedback, the anchor organizations finalized their CAPs and began fully implementing them. Residents who were once just participants, transitioned into leaders of the initiative. They have planned resident meetings, testified in front of their city councils, and stepped up to lead the implementation of various aspects of their action plans. The communities have had the following successes:

Allen County:

  • Advocated for and successfully saw the passage of a Complete Streets policy in Iola, Kansas.
  • Supported the opening of a new community technical education center, the Regional Rural Vo-Tech Center.
  • Developed and promoted an open-use agreement with school district USD 257.

SW Bricktown:

  • Allocated funding in the city budget for a police officer dedicated to their neighborhood.
  • Hosted a weekly Walking School Bus from the Avenue A School
  • Advocated to keep the local Avenue A School from closing.
  • Passed a policy with the housing commission to allow residents to apply for small amounts of funding for home improvements.
  • Engaged the community in an effort to rename the neighborhood, developed a logo for the neighborhood, and worked with the city to pass a proclamation recognizing the new name.
  • Residents advocated for stops signs to be added at two busy intersections and for crosswalks to be repainted in front of a local school.

Historic Fairmount Neighborhood:

  • Leveraged funding from the Knight Foundation to connect neighborhood youth to the resources of a local university;
  • Launched the Neighborhood Front Porch Light Program to distribute LED light bulbs so residents can use their porch lights to help light the streets at night.
  • Launched a resident-driven code-compliance program to reinforce the idea that residents have ownership of their community.

Wyandotte (Zipcodes 66101 and 66102):

  • Developed a civic engagement toolkit of resources to promote, inform and push civic engagement and voter turnout.
  • Created a community garden with a youth organization.
  • Met with a variety of public officials, including the mayor, to build support around key objectives.
  • Created a transportation plan for zip codes 66101, 66102, and 66104 that identifies issues related to connectivity and resident access to jobs, healthy foods, and housing.

Topeka (Pine Ridge, Echo Ridge, Deer Creek):

  • Advocated for the expansion of a health clinic in Pine Ridge that provides primary care, dental, and mental health services.
  • Made improvements to the recreation areas around the Deer Creek facility.
  • Hosted stakeholder bus tours to help policymakers and others learn about the needs of the communities.