Children’s Board works to end racial disparities, create ONEhillsborough

The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and 83 Degrees Media have entered an underwriting agreement to shine a light on priority issues that need to be addressed to create a thriving, healthy and safe community for all families and children, regardless of their race, ethnicity or zip code.

The Children’s Board is a local government body that provides funding and services to nonprofits to support child and family-based programs that provide a foundation for healthy, safe and prosperous lives. It partners with more than 60 local organizations to achieve its goal by providing grants, funding and support services to worthy programs.

Over the next year, we will tell the stories of the organizations, programs and people that work to boost outcomes for children and families in areas such as education, health care, housing, food security and economic stability. 

Our first story focuses on ONEhillsborough, a new initiative the Children's Board launched to add urgency to community efforts to improve the quality of life within Black and Brown neighborhoods that struggle against decades of systemic and racial disparities. 

“I think it’s important that the Children’s Board be able to shift and meet this critical need. We want to make sure we’re diving a little deeper into some of the systemic issues from a long-term point of view,” says Dexter Lewis, director of public relations for the Children’s Board. “We’ve been a long-time funder to make sure children are on track. This will provide real support and solutions.”

In its initial stages, ONEhillsborough will focus on three zip codes: 33603, 33610 and 33619. Those neighborhoods include South Seminole Heights, Wellswood, areas along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue, and Palm River and Clair Mel.

Right now, the program is in the early stages of a four-part plan that will invite new and current partners to collaborate within a network of nonprofits that work within the designated geographical areas. Business leaders and government also will be partners. The Children’s Board will provide grants and resources to aid in rooting out the causes of inequity and closing the gaps created by systemic barriers that prevent minority communities from prospering.

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic were stark evidence that Black and Brown communities are disproportionately impacted when our systems fail to address racial and economic disparities. Floyd’s murder in particular prompted business and community leaders to engage in conversations about the issues and potential solutions. 

In 2021, Brian and Maureen Butler, at Vistra Communications, partnered with the Children’s Board to conduct five conversations with business and community leaders and residents to discuss issues and define solutions. Children’s Board’s Executive Director Kelley Parris and the agency’s board of directors decided to launch ONEhillsborough as a result. A report prepared by Vistra Communications will guide the initiative’s development.

Children’s Board Director of Strategic Initiatives Genet Stewart discussed ONEhillsborough in a recent phone interview. Stewart’s experience includes 22 years working in Florida’s child welfare system and serving as chair of the Racial Equity in Child Welfare and the Hillsborough Child Welfare/Domestic Violence work groups. 

How did ONEhillsborough get started?

This initiative has been in the works for several years. Shortly after the George Floyd murder in 2020 Kelley (Parris, executive director of The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County) joined the community conversation with Black and Hispanic nonprofit leaders about the racial disparity that we see. It is not only unique to these three zip codes but throughout the county, as well as it is in other communities.Children's Board of Hillsborough County Director of Strategic Initiatives Genet Stewart

In February 2021, Vistra Communications convened several community and business leaders to talk about racial disparities. The conversation was the first phase of the initiative. The next phase was to hire a project director and that’s where I came in as director of strategic initiatives.

What does the ONEhillsborough name mean?
It really speaks to the spirit of how we are approaching this. We understand that the community holds the answers. Oftentimes, we come in very well intended, but we may offer services to a community without thoroughly vetting whether this is really what they need. So, you know we’re being very thoughtful in this initiative.

We’ve hired a contract manager for each zip code, and they are now introducing themselves to people, learning about who’s in the community and what great work is already being done. They’re attending neighborhood association meetings, school meetings with parent liaisons, and trying to talk with as many families as possible.

We want to make sure that when we start identifying needs and gaps in the community that it is truly community driven.

What is happening now with ONEhillsborough?

The first year has been us really defining who we are, coming up with the name, developing job descriptions and hiring staff. The initiative early on helped with resources for existing after-school programs, summer school programs, fitness and nutrition, art and music. There also were summer programs at the Silver Oaks Apartments.  (The Silver Oaks complex, on Kenneth Court in East Tampa’s 33610-zip code, failed a safe-living conditions inspection from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last spring.)

We want to make sure that what we are providing fits in nicely with what’s already provided. It’s not something that will happen overnight. It’s something new and different. I’m grateful for Kelley to have this vision and for our chair and board to have invested in this.

What are the next steps for the initiative?

It's sort of to be determined who's going to be participating, but we’re reaching out specifically to groups that work within those three zip codes. It'll be posted on our website just as any of the other grant opportunities that will be pushed out to our providers. It could be that we have a provider that already has a relationship with the Children's Board, or it could be a brand-new provider that has never received a grant from the Children's Board that may be interested in applying.

For more information, visit ONEhillsborough.
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Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.