March 16, 2018

Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge welcomes new faces

New Boston Fed director, initiative directors for Cranston, Newport, and Providence

The Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge welcomed new on-the-ground leadership in recent months. Cranston, Newport, and Providence—all winners of multiyear Working Cities Challenge implementation awards of $400,000—each hired initiative directors. The Boston Fed also welcomed a new director of the Working Cities Challenge in Rhode Island, Inés Palmarin, to be a resource to teams as they implement their strategies to solve economic development challenges within their communities.

Inés joins the Boston Fed from LISC Boston, where she was the senior program officer for "Resilient Communities." She also spent over a decade as a planner and project director for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, where she worked on numerous neighborhood planning initiatives.

Cranston, Newport, and Providence are now building capacity and working toward implementing support programs designed to spur workforce development and job creation among low- and moderate-income residents within their respective communities. Each of these cities hired an initiative director to take on the day-to-day project management of the team and its work.  From coordinating the planning and communications to developing the overall strategy across a team's core partners, the initiative directors are very much the face of their teams and support their team's progress on the ground.

Initiative directors are continually charged to react, be nimble, and execute multiple strategies. More specifically, but less tangibly, the directors focus on deepening the partners' engagement and trust in the collaboration.

Working Cities Rhode Island Initiative Directors

We sat down with Cranston's Ayana Crichton, Newport's Kathryn Cantwell, and Providence's Christina Garcia to learn more about their work and what drives them and their teams. (Editor's note: responses were edited for brevity.)

What intrigued you about becoming a Working Cities Challenge initiative director?

Ayana Crichton (Cranston): I worked as a partner with the initiative from the first day it was introduced to Cranston. I was passionate about helping youth gain opportunities in Cranston – so when our Working Cities team began to focus on social cohesion within Cranston, it was the perfect match.

Kathryn Cantwell (Newport): The strategies determined by the Newport team are audacious, but doable, especially the team we have assembled. My previous work at the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University focused on public leaders learning to work collaboratively and the core elements of Working Cities was perfectly aligned with the values I want to be central in my work.

Christina Garcia (Providence): I've spent about ten years working in the nonprofit sector providing direct services. At times, when you are so deep in the weeds, it's difficult to feel the total impact of your work. Working Cities is an opportunity for the whole community to feel the impact of systems change, where organizations no longer work in silos. It's also an opportunity for collective leadership to be the new operating norm.

Taking on the role of initiative director requires many hats. What has the process been like so far? What are you looking forward to most?

Ayana: The processes and roles of an initiative director are not easy and there are more days of defeat and failure than I anticipated, but small wins keep me going. I'm looking forward to more of those small wins, people connecting with each other and making positive changes, and the diverse community working together on projects they normally would do alone.

Kathryn: It has been exhilarating to learn about the more than 30 residents and organizations we have at the table and how ideas and people connect together. I look forward to the day when a new person or family moves to Newport's North End and the first thing they hear from a neighbor is, "If you need anything, go see the Working Cities team, they will connect you with that you need to be successful."

Christina: It has been inspiring to work with different stakeholders who are committed to this initiative. I most look forward to engaging and working alongside Providence residents. Our goal is to authentically involve residents in every step of this initiative, empower them to be part of the solution, improve their personal situations, and gain ownership for improving their whole community.

What are some of the challenges or opportunities you're currently tackling?

Ayana: Our current challenge is getting all the right players to the table. Even though we already put in 18 months of work into receiving the implementation award, the majority of our work lies ahead. I'm working on refocusing people and getting them to feel comfortable in the roles they chose.

Kathryn: Newport has a hidden neighborhood that most tourists don't see – within one square mile over 2,500 families have experienced multiple generations of poverty. Meanwhile, our major employers face challenges hiring and they need a talent pipeline for future success. We're now seizing this opportunity to connect both constituents.

Christina: Our core team refuses to accept the current systems that continue to oppress Providence's underserved. There are over 15 cross-sector leaders discussing community engagement, data sharing, and workforce development strategies – a community organizer's dream! Everyone at the table is passionate and committed, so it's a real opportunity to improve the lives of Providence residents.