By Alicia Notarianni, Herald Mail Media
During 2015, a coalition of community organizations came together to form Bester Community of Hope.
Since that time, the organization has brought to the Washington County area a series of nationally recognized speakers, offering trainings and models for addressing community needs and creating a positive social impact.
On Thursday, March 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Maryland Theatre, Bester Community of Hope, a San Mar Initiative, will continue its efforts to share visions of success for children and families through its fifth large community training, Collective Impact. The event will feature three national experts in education and community change, each of whom, the event flyer reads “have accomplished seemingly impossible outcomes, with common sense approaches you can implement in your organization.”
The speakers are Geoffrey Canada, Jim Sporleder and Dante DeTablan.
Keith Fanjoy, director of Bester Community of Hope, said the concept of sharing ideas in a practical way is key to the mission of the group.
“Really, the goal of these events if to capture the hearts and minds of people that live and work and try to make a difference in Washington County,” Fanjoy said. “We believe that helping to share beliefs around these major issues, people start to ultimately ask, ‘What is it that I can do to make a collective impact where I live? What are some specific things that I can implement?’”
Fanjoy, who is incoming chief executive officer of San Mar, said the partners involved in the organized efforts in the south end of Hagerstown are helping to “continue a dialogue of the most effective ways to serve children and families, that honors their history, builds on their strengths, and moves toward solutions.”
“We make the biggest impact through working with partners to get clarity around our shared beliefs,” he said.
Fanjoy said it is rare to be able to “bring in the caliber of speakers we have been able to bring in over the past few years.”
Canada is a leader in the field of social reform nationally, according to Fanjoy. He is renowned for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem, N.Y., as president and chief executive officer of Harlem Children’s Zone, and for his involvement with Promise Neighborhoods, a program designed to improve outcomes for children in distressed communities. Canada has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and one of Fortune’s 50 greatest leaders.
“He is a voice that I think Hagerstown and Washington County can learn a great deal from about looking at insurmountable challenges in a very different way. Not looking at the problem and saying how unsolvable it is, but in maybe thinking about what it would take to make it happen, no matter what the obstacles are,” Fanjoy said.
Sporleder, best known for Trauma Informed Consulting, teaches that while traumatic experiences in childhood statistically result in increased behavioral and psychological risk factors, those factors can be offset by the presence of one dependable and caring adult. His service as principal, along with that of staff at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Wash., is featured in the film “Paper Tigers,” which was previously screened by a Hagerstown audience.
“What’s exciting about his training is that it is not just for people with an education background. The principles people will learn at the event can apply to every organization working with children and families and trying their best to make our neighborhoods a better place to live,” Fanjoy said. “It shows how when you work with an unconditional care platform, you can achieve extraordinary results even with those challenges.”
DeTablan is vice president of United Way Ben Franklin Center at Brooklyn/Curtis Bay which offers programs in education, health, housing and employment needs in south Baltimore.
“When we think about the things that are happening in our communities, there is a lot we can do, but it starts with us asking questions, about our organizations, our daily practices,” Fanjoy said. “Trainings like this ultimately can give us tools we need to make the impact that we are looking for.”
San Mar Family and Community Services, based in Boonsboro, began organizing a community improvement effort during 2014. That effort formally began as Bester Community of Hope in the South end neighborhood.
San Mar had posed a question to institutional leaders across Washington County, Fanjoy said, asking where, geographically, were the greatest amounts of needs, as well as momentum and opportunity for impact.
“There was a unanimous vote that this part of the community in the south end presented the greatest overlapping social need,” he said, “and also the greatest momentum, (in part) because of the strategic investment by the school system to build a big, beautiful, brand new school (Bester Elementary School).”
Bester Community of Hope’s first large scale training in 2015 was about Trauma Informed Care.
“It’s really the idea and practice around taking the time to listen and understand the experiences of the people we serve,” Fanjoy said.
Other Community of Hope events focused on Building Resilience and Healing Communities.
Pervious speakers have included “Paper Tigers” director James Redford, and Lonice Bias, mother of deceased All-American basketball player Len Bias.
Bester Community of Hope is part of an effort based in Seattle, Wash., and is one of 14 national sites receiving funding from Casey Family Programs. Part of that group’s goal is to reduce the number of children placed outside of their home.
Funding for speakers at area trainings is underwritten through local and national philanthropy and support. Sources include the Community Foundation of Washington County; Washington County Department of Social Services; Casey Family Programs; Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation; and other strategic partners, Fanjoy said.
Roughly 450 people have attended past Bester Community of Hope trainings. Collective Impact will be the group’s first event at The Maryland Theatre, and Fanjoy is hoping for as many as 600 people to participate.
“We get a cross section of all kinds of community organizations. People come from outside the region to learn, and this puts Hagerstown in a position of leadership as a community,” he said. “We are a community starting to make changes for good. Others are coming to Hagerstown to learn from us and to see how we are doing it. That is an exciting premise.”
It is a goal of Bester Community of Hope to remain on the “very cutting edge of understanding the most effective tools and practices to make a strategic impact in the lives of kids and families,” Fanjoy said.
Measurable success happens as other organizations take lessons from community trainings and implement them in their own work to improve the community. This is happening with participating groups, he said, Hagerstown Area Religious Council among them.
“We’ve seen them taking ownership, taking this on for themselves into their work,” Fanjoy said. “The results of the trainings have a ripple effect when people come to the trainings, and go go back to their organizations and ask, ‘How can we best implement these practices in our work?’”
Challenges of each community are unique, and there is not one-size-fits-all approach for success in solving problems.
“There are, however, principles we can follow together under a shared vision for success,” Fanjoy said. “A lot of challenges can be overcome by figuring out how to learn from one another, how we can implement tools, and best strategies and practices right here at home.”
WHAT: Bester Community of Hope’s Collective Impact
WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29
WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown
COST: $45 person; $30 per person for groups of 10 or more
CONTACT: Go to BesterHope.org or call 240-513-6370