The South Madison Promise Zone
Planning for Success
|Peng Her is the Urban League’s lead planner for
the South Madison Promise Zone initiative.
much more efficient and finding ways to address these issues that haven’t been looked at in the past.”
Her is a quiet, observant individual. And as we talked about the South Madison Promise Zone, Her always brought the subject back to
community needs and listening to the residents. The Promise Zone will be based on what the residents feel they need — as well as their
ideas on how services should be provided — and not what some “experts” feel they need.
“I really want to make sure that I do my due diligence to really listen to the community, engage them at a level that they feel that their
voices are being heard and respected and are part of coming up with a plan,” Her emphasized. “Like I said, I think many of us are guilty
of trying to say what is best for a particular community and then we realize that what we thought was best wasn’t working. This is month
two of the first year of the South Madison Promise Zone. The goal is to really listen to the community, engage them, let them tell us what
their needs and challenges are. There could be workshops on best practices. It could be bringing in a consultant to align these
services. But it could also be if the residents are telling us that we need this whole new program — there is this huge need that isn’t
being met — we could find a way during implementation to create a new program also. I think it is still very open in terms of what
implementation is going to be. We want to engage the community so the community has a part in deciding on what needs to be done on
the south side of Madison.”
As the implementation team listens to the community, the types of services and collaborations needed in the Promise Zone — which is
bordered by the Beltline, Fish Hatchery Road, Wingra Creek and the area east of Bram Hill — will become apparent.
“Promise zones are not direct service providers in the sense that we’re going to provide child care or provide literacy services,” Her
said. “There are plenty of good organizations out there that do it. Our approach is we want to connect all of these so that when a person
who comes to the Urban League, for example, is looking for assistance in getting a job and also has small children at home who need
affordable child care and also doesn’t have a GED and also may be evicted from their home because they have no source of income,
these are problems that residents face. It’s multiple sets of challenges. How can we as a promise zone work with this person to make
sure that all of these issues are being addressed and connect them to the right service providers that are in the community?”
As Her, his staff and the implementation team listen to the community and begin to come up with a plan, the Urban League, as the entity
that houses the promise zone staff, will be applying for implementation funds from the Dept. of Education.
Through the planning process, social media and a website, Her hopes to engage elements of the community to plug themselves into the
overall plan and to come up with solutions to issues that hold South Madison residents back. Her gave housing as an example.
“Someone might look at the website and say, ‘You know what, I didn’t know they had this particular gap, whether it is in achievement or
homelessness,’” Her said. “I might be a construction worker or might be a developer and say, ‘I’d be willing to partner with the promise
zone to make sure that when I build a building, it has residents who are multigenerational.’ People sometimes forget that in the African
American community and the Hmong and Latino communities, sometimes grandparents are the child care provider for young children
because of whatever factor that causes the parents to not be able to be a parent. So if I were a developer while knowing that, I might
create a building, whether it is a single family or duplex that allows seniors to access it more, with fewer barriers for example and
make sure that the bedrooms are on the first floor so that seniors can access the rooms versus a traditional house where the bedrooms
are upstairs and the seniors have to climb the steps to go visit their grandchildren.”
In Her’s view, the South Madison Promise Zone will unleash resources to work in collaboration and bring new actors in unexpected
ways to meet the needs of children and families. But first, it is important to listen.
“My philosophy has always been to go slow to go fast,” Her said. “I don’t want to rush the planning or rush the engagement part.
Sometimes — and I’m included in this — we think we know what is best for people because we are the expert or we’ve been doing this
for so long. And then I implement these programs when I never asked how you wanted it to be.”
Her and the South Madison Promise Zone implementation team will be listening all summer long.
For more information about the South Madison Promise Zone, e-mail Peng Her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Urban League of Greater
Madison website at www.ulgm.org.
By Jonathan Gramling
For over 35 years, South Madison has come to symbolize poverty and crime to
many Madisonians — even when other parts of the metropolitan area may
actually sport worse statistics in these areas. And during that time, it has almost
become a Mecca for service providers as they seek to cure the problems that
exist in South Madison and prove the worthiness of their continued existence to
funding sources, oftentimes without input from the residents in terms of what
they need. Yet many of the problems that South Madison faces have proven
intractable as many of the agencies work in isolation from each other as they
work on their narrow segment of the problem.
In order to get service providers to look at the big picture and collaborate with
each other as they provide services in South Madison, the Urban League of
Greater Madison applied for funding from the U.S. Dept. of Education to create a
Promise Zone for children and families so that all of the services children and
families need would be working in tandem to help make that happen. When the
Urban League didn’t get the funding, philanthropist Mary Burke donated the funds
to the Urban League to begin the planning process for a Promise Zone and place
itself in position to obtain future Promise Zone funding from the Dept. of
Peng Her, the director of the Isthmus/East Madison Planning Council was
attracted to the project and successfully applied to become its director.
“What really intrigued me and got me interested in this position is it was not just
working in isolation and each one doing their own little thing,” Her said. “But the
progression of how we as a community view those who are less fortunate than
us, those who as other folks call it, the entitlement programs, given the
economy, given the funders who have to with much fewer resources, there is
this need or urgency to make sure we start working together, making things