Chelsea’s Success Continues in Working Cities Challenge

If Chelsea’s participation in the All-America City competition last month was the main event, then the undercard held just days before was the Working Cities Challenge “Pitch Contest.”

Just like in the main event, Chelsea’s team walked away victorious, this time in the Boston Federal Reserve’s contest for a $5,000 cash prize.

“We left the Fed in Boston excited about our success there and optimistic that it would be the start of a great weekend for Chelsea. It turned out that way, and, in both instances, the presentations of the Chelsea delegations were equal to the tasks at hand,” said City Manager Jay Ash, a co-chair of Chelsea’s Working Cities Challenge project, dubbed “Chelsea Works.”

The Boston Fed has determined through its research that resilient cities are those whose leadership works together on a common agenda. Its Working Cities Challenge was open to 20 cities in Massachusetts, with Chelsea capturing one of six Working Cities Challenge grants. The Pitch Contest was an opportunity for those six communities, Somerville, Holyoke, Lawrence, Salem, Fitchburg and Chelsea, to meet and pitch a proposal to five different foundations.

Salem, Fitchburg and Chelsea were successful, with each receiving a $5,000 award.

“The Working Cities Challenge has been an exhausting, yet enlightening process,” said Ann Houston, Executive Director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND), who joins together with Ash, Roca Executive Director Molly Baldwin and Chelsea School Superintendent Mary Bourque to form the leadership of the 27-partner Chelsea Works collaboration. That collaboration is seeking to bring physical, quality of life and resident prosperity improvements to residents in the Shurtleff/Bellingham neighborhood of the city.

Chelsea Works will use the $5,000 award to hire 10 resident leaders to continue the development of social capital in the targeted neighborhood.  Social capital is an emerging concept that believes residents and neighborhoods do better when people know each other and can rely on each other for things like looking after kids and developing informal information networks around job opportunities and community engagement.

“We’re excited about where we are, but have a lot more work to do to get the data systems in place so we can  share information about partners and measure and further shape the progress of residents and their neighborhoods in meeting their advancement goals,” said Baldwin.

During the Pitch Contest, a Chelsea delegation comprised of representatives of the City, TND, Roca and Healthy Challenge, met for a half-hour each with representatives of Santander Bank, Citizens Bank, the United Way of MA Bay, Bank of America and The Boston Foundation.  Presentations focused on social capital, as well as efforts to coordinate programming, engage more residents and develop a more effective tracking system to turn data into the impetus for greater change and success.

“We’re on the leading edge of a data-driven process that both measures success and results in further programmatic refinements,” commented Bourque. “There is some meaningful public policy progress being made in Chelsea, and the recognition both in Boston and around the country tells us that many are interested in seeing us succeed and want to be part of that success.”

Added Ash, “And, as important as the substance of Chelsea Works is, the high level of collaboration and trust we have developed and are now exhibiting has equally captured the attention of observers.”

Chelsea Works has hired a director and is further refining programmatic elements and collaboration strategies for a major strategic launch soon.

“There’s much that has been done and much more to do.  We’re focused, working tirelessly and driven to succeed,” concluded Houston.

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