Ogden United Promise Neighborhood: Building Community

By Angela Choberka
Assistant Director, Ogden United Promise Neighborhood

When I tell people I work for United Way of Northern Utah, they often ask what I do. I have attempted to create a short answer, so I can respond concisely and try not to take up too much of their time. I usually say: “I work on an education initiative for my neighborhood; it’s called Ogden United Promise Neighborhood.” 

They often nod and say that sounds nice and move on. When there is time and any additional questions, I continue to explain: the Promise Neighborhood initiative was started several years ago by local educators and United Way of Northern Utah. It is based on the work of Geoffrey Canada in Harlem, New York.

About twenty years ago, Canada personally took responsibility for making sure the children living in the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) would have the same educational opportunities as his own children. His goals included providing basic needs and support services for families, along with beginning to educate new parents in the neighborhood (Baby College), and having high educational expectations for the children themselves. This initiative was not an immediate success. However, by continuing to evaluate and alter the programs as needed, focusing on addressing the needs of the community, and taking a long-term and sustainable approach with community partners, the work has shown amazing results: One hundred percent of their children are kindergarten ready and they have a 96% college acceptance rate. The children who started with them in Baby College have enormous opportunities when compared with children living in similar neighborhoods who are not enrolled in the HCZ programs.

Because of the success of this work, it has become a national model for addressing the needs of communities where poverty is concentrated. There are opportunities for federal grants, it is written into the most recent federal education law, and in Utah, we are lucky enough to have access to state funding that supports these types of partnership-driven efforts. United Way of Northern Utah and our partners at the Ogden School District are replicating this work to support students and families living within the Ogden High School feeder schools that are having the most challenges with academic outcomes. We know that lower academic outcomes could be indicators of other barriers to success in life. 

Too often, people think these services to support students and families should be provided by the school district alone, or that community organizations should provide services separate from school. Within the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood philosophy, we believe in bringing all the partners together, so we can provide a comprehensive set of supports that will make more of an impact rather than letting those entities work in isolation. Through a recent state grant, we have received funding for the next three years that we can use to align services for families, provide outreach to youth who have left school, help stabilize families financially, and much more. This work can only be accomplished when the partners in our community come together in a collective way to focus their intentions on the needs of the children above all else.

Fifteen partners have committed to support our work through matching funds and services, while numerous others are providing additional support. We are all definitely not in this kind of work for a quick turnaround but hope to make a lasting impact for the future of all of the children in our community. By funding five full-time positions within this feeder to help to accomplish our goals, we hope that more families can access an all-encompassing set of supports that can make a real impact for them. This is more effective than a scattered collection of efforts where the partner organizations are unaware of other services the family receives or they are unable to address the root causes of the needs of each family.

Now, that is a long answer for the original question. To learn more about these kinds of efforts nationally and locally, check out these websites: Harlem Children's Zone , Promise Neighborhoods , and the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood.

Find more information here on current hiring for three new youth advocate positions at Ogden schools.