360 Communities: Growing hope, support in Dakota County
By Sal Mondelli,
Special to Sun Thisweek
Since joining 360 Communities, I have spent the majority of my time meeting with members of the community, volunteers, funders, and governmental agencies. The message has been consistent: You do great work, your employees and volunteers are fully committed to the mission, but since you changed your name, I’m not sure what it is you really do or where you are headed. Let me offer my thoughts on those subjects.
Our organization continues to provide hope and support to people by engaging communities to prevent violence, ensure school success and promote long term self-sufficiency. We assist more than 15,000 individuals and families in any given year by operating 11 programs in over 40 locations in Dakota County. This includes five food shelves, two women’s shelters, and school success programs that focus on early childhood reading.
I believe 360 Communities has a tremendous opportunity for growth. Some of our programs address thousands of people, others less than 100. Our goal will be to expand the reach of our programs that are having the greatest impact and to identify potential partnerships that will extend our reach in others.
In the months before my arrival, 360 Communities staff initiated a strategic assessment examining who we serve and where our work fits in the larger Dakota County community. This will help us gain insight for both the near and longer terms. We will finish that effort in the next few months.
360 Communities cannot and should not try to be everything to everyone. Do not look for us to expand with more programs until we have agreed that we are doing everything to grow programs with the highest impact and the largest need.
While we already make a positive difference in thousands of lives every year, there is still much unmet need, which means there is an opportunity for growth. For example, one school district currently has 28 percent of the K-3 population (about 1,200 students) not meeting reading proficiency levels. With current funding we are working with 7 percent (about 300 students) with great reviews from the teachers, and improvements from the students. That means we are only addressing 25 percent of the total that we could with additional funding. We can have an even greater impact there, so it makes sense to do that first before starting something new.
Growth through innovation
360 Communities recently helped facilitate the Redesigning MN workshop that included more than two dozen community members representing multiple constituents in Dakota County. The purpose of the project is to address how the delivery of public and social services needs to be restructured in light of reduced tax revenues. This is being precipitated by the large number of “baby boomer” retirements. In short, the current model is unsustainable, and even with massive budget cuts, will not be able to meet the needs of the public.
I was fortunate to take part in these diverse discussion groups and hear the variety of perspectives on the future of Dakota County. The event was filmed by TPT and is scheduled to air on Aug. 17. I hope you will watch.
The Redesigning MN project aligns well with our convening work underway in Burnsville, Eagan, Lakeville and Rosemount. Community leaders from across sectors are participating in these efforts to look at challenges in their communities and invent new solutions.
My first few weeks at 360 Communities have reinforced what I am hearing from stakeholders – we are an organization that makes a difference. Please know that we will continue to move forward with this important work, while keeping an eye on creatively addressing the demographic shifts in our communities. As we move forward, growing this organization will require partnerships, innovation, efficiency and care. We can and need to do this together.
Sal Mondelli is president and CEO of 360 Communities, a nonprofit devoted to preventing violence, stabilizing families in crisis, and ensuring that students succeed in school. He can be reached at smondelli@360Communities.org. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.