S.F. lends a hand to residents confused about city services 

San Francisco parents frustrated with finding the right services for their families will receive assistance from a new city program aimed at bridging the gap between public agencies and community needs.

A group of 20 "community conveners," selected by the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, will act as information centers for parents around The City, helping to coordinate family services, promote neighborhood events and organize community assessment meetings.

According to department Director Margaret Brodkin, the genesis of the community convener program emerged two years ago when department officials began outreach meetings with parents to determine the top concerns of San Francisco families.

"The most common problem we found from parents was that they did not know what resources were out there for them," Brodkin said.

DCYF started contacting neighborhood organizations last summer about the program, and in July the department began accepting grant applications, Brodkin said. Grants for community conveners, dispersed through The City’s Children’s Fund, range from $30,000 to $60,000 depending on neighborhood needs, with the total cost of the program adding up to $935,000 for this fiscal year, Brodkin said. No new funding will be spent on the program.

Sheryl Davis, who acts as the Western Addition community convener through her organization, Mo’ Magic, said the program is essential for building personal relationships within the neighborhood.

"Sometimes the e-mails and the Internet don't work," Davis said. She was one of the first community conveners to be awarded with a grant when she received hers in July. "The chance to meet people personally and to build relationships and trust is crucial for a community."

Tina Collins, a lifelong resident in the Western Addition and mother of three girls, Myisha, 14, Aaliyah, 5, and Star, 3, has used the community convener program as a way to provide services for her children, and as a referral system for other parents in need.

"I’ve been in the community my whole life and a lot of parents come to me asking where they should go for help," Collins said. "I send them to Sheryl and she introduces them to all of the services out there."

James Knoebber, a community convener at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, said the program has been instrumental in unifying community-based organizations.

"It acts as a conduit in bringing family issues to the forefront," he said. "Before this program, scattered groups would approach different city agencies with their concerns. There is a lot more force when there are 10-12 groups coming out together."

wreisman@examiner.com  

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