After year of change, why I see big things coming in 2014


We are winding down a year of major change at the Foundation, in a community – Detroit, my hometown – in the midst of historic change (bankruptcy, emergency financial manager, new mayor and new city council).

At the Foundation in 2013, our longtime leader and my mentor Carol Goss wound down an amazing career here; we introduced a new strategic plan focused on significantly driving up meaningful high school graduation rates in Detroit, so kids are prepared for college, career, and life; and we added an exciting new line of work that we call Social Innovation that will borrow private-sector practices to help us combat seemingly intractable problems like blight and safety.

The challenges Detroit children face are immense, but like most Detroiters I remain stubbornly optimistic about our future and our community.

Since March our staff has worked relentlessly to begin implementing our new strategic plan. Much has been accomplished already, including: 

  • We launched a new RFP process for our youth development work, one that binds that work together in a way that will take it to scale and up its quality.
  • We helped lead a public-private partnership through the Detroit Blight Authority that cleared 200,000 pounds of blight from a 14-block area in Brightmoor.

    A Detroit Police officer reads a thank you note from a Detroit child at a Random Act of Community event on Dec. 17.

  • We launched an innovative youth transportation pilot with the Detroit Bus Company that helped kids in Southwest Detroit get safely to and from development opportunities. Thousands of riders took part in the pilot program, which we’re refining and hoping to expand.
  • We saw our neighborhood residents lead a charge to influence the November elections, putting kids into the political conversation with the Children’s Agenda. Neighborhood leaders knocked on 33,000 doors and had more than 10,000 people sign the petition to support an agenda for kids. Every elected City Council candidate signed the agenda!
  • In education, we have seen the conversation change to be about what’s right for kids, and we’re proud of that. Now, we’re driving the message that what matters is quality options right in their neighborhoods. We networked 15 promising schools together, all of which share that vision and are working to build capacity in three key areas – math and English instruction, student personalization and voice and community connections.
  • We started our safety work and saw major momentum begin to churn including more coordination of safe routes and citizen patrols, more dialogue with the police department, and new methods for of-the-moment crime data to get into the hands of residents.

This is the time of year when people naturally want to give back, and when random acts of kindness are ever present. Inspired by that spirit of giving, and by the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture, we kicked off a modest new initiative we are calling Random Acts of Community. Watch the video above to learn more about it. Also keep your eyes on the Foundation’s social platforms, and watch for the hash tag #randomactsofcommunity.

I hope Random Acts of Community catches on. I believe in Detroit, and that better futures for our children lie ahead. I know you do too.

I wish you and your family all the best this holiday season.

Tonya Allen is president & CEO of the Skillman Foundation.