Report: Rhode Island “Working Cities” made progress in supporting residents, collaboration Report: Rhode Island “Working Cities” made progress in supporting residents, collaboration

Independent firm releases evaluations of Cranston, Newport, and Providence WCC groups Independent firm releases evaluations of Cranston, Newport, and Providence WCC groups

May 10, 2022

An independent evaluation has found that since Rhode Island’s three Working Cities Challenge teams were formed in 2017, they’ve made progress in supporting local families, given residents leadership opportunities, and elevated community conversations about equity.

The Working Cities Challenge – part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Places initiative – is a grant program focused on promoting economic development in smaller, post-industrial cities. Teams in Cranston, Newport, and Providence were each awarded $400,000 to build stronger collaboration among local organizations, so they can better tackle longtime issues and improve the lives of lower-income residents.

Mt. Auburn Associates, the consulting firm that completed the evaluation, analyzed the teams’ progress through interviews with stakeholders, document reviews, and observation. The following are city-by-city highlights from Mt. Auburn’s evaluations:


Highlights: OneCranston, the city’s Working Cities Challenge team, sought to increase community engagement among residents, advance conversations about racial equity, and expand educational opportunities for youth. While a more collaborative approach between local organizations was new to Cranston, several key institutions – including the Cranston Public Library and the Cranston YMCA – formed strong bonds and regularly collaborate on community initiatives. A student-focused workgroup called the “Youth Opportunity Zone” also established mentorship programs in STEM and arts education that served more than 70 children.

“OneCranston envisions a thriving and cohesive city where all feel they belong, and civically engaged citizens work together to build trust, fight exclusion, create opportunity, and work for the well-being of all, creating opportunities for all.” – Mt. Auburn report


Highlights: The Newport Working Cities Challenge team aimed to decrease chronic absenteeism among local students, advocate for state policy changes to support low-income residents, and promote resident engagement and leadership in the North End community. The team helped to establish Conexión Latina Newport, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Spanish-speaking families. Members and partners such as The Boys and Girls Club of Newport County, Newport Public Schools, and the East Bay Community Action Program adopted new hiring practices and outreach efforts to promote racial equity and inclusion.

“Together, partners were able to add, energize, and connect stakeholders in the existing Newport ecosystem to build the civic muscle of the North End. … Through NWCC, these residents have developed stronger leadership skills and found the confidence to advocate for the change they desire.” – Mt. Auburn report


Highlights: In Providence, the Dunamis Synergy initiative focused on helping parents ages 15-25 earn postsecondary education credentials and find career opportunities, while making sure their children were healthy and doing well in school. The initiative also worked to raise awareness among educational institutions of the unique challenges young parents face. More than 100 program participants have enrolled in higher education, and about 60 families are working with family coaches, who help connect parents with opportunities and resources to meet their children’s needs. Through College Unbound – a local college for adult learners – parents are also receiving class credit to develop a Parent Leadership Curriculum.

“Parents and families are central to the team's work and have direct involvement in several ways. … And beyond engaging parents to guide the initiative, Dunamis approaches community engagement as a way to empower parents to be stronger leaders.” – Mt. Auburn report

WCC leader says the initiative’s work continues in all three cities

The Boston Fed’s Ines Palmarin, who leads the Working Cities Challenge in Rhode Island, highlighted additional and ongoing efforts in all three cities that weren’t covered in the Mt. Auburn evaluation. Those efforts include awarding $2,500 stipends to one Cranston and three Newport residents attending College Unbound to fund projects focused on strengthening local community leadership.

She also pointed to the cities’ ongoing Place-Based Initiative Conversations effort.

“Thanks to key funding partners in the WCC, we have about $200,000 to invest in ensuring the lessons we’ve learned so far are put into practice to strengthen and grow our work,” Palmarin said. “We’d like to gather—in person, this time—to think creatively and strategically about how to allocate those resources.”

Two conversations have been held so far, and one is scheduled for later in the spring.

Palmarin added that the Working Cities teams will continue investing in local leadership and collaboration.

“We’re planting seeds for the next initiative in Cranston to be able to practice collaborative leadership,” she said. “We know change takes time, and we will continue to support leaders and efforts that work towards systems change.”

Learn more about the Working Cities Challenge here.

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