Community development firm shares practical experience with SSA studentsBy William Harms
Collaborating with experts in the field of community improvement and development, students at the School of Social Service Administration are learning from the first-hand experiences of staff members at Community Development Associates Inc. CDA is a community development consulting firm based in New York and Chicago that is engaged in community change efforts around the country.
Just as artists and writers visit the University to share their practical experiences with students as artists-in-residence, the CDA team has joined SSA as a “community development firm in residence.” This enables the firm to continue its work with organizations in Chicago and around the country while becoming deeply engaged in the growing community development program at the school.
CDA’s role at SSA ranges from working with students and faculty to helping identify ways that the school can become even more of a resource to the neighborhoods around the University through its field placements, research and professional development.
CDA also has taken an active role in working with the SSA McCormick Tribune fellows, a set of graduate students at the school with a particular interest in community development who have received tuition support. The firm also manages a workshop series for the students, which focused this academic year on the public housing transformation in Chicago and the development of mixed-income communities.
“Among the other roles, CDA has worked hard to ensure that the experience of the McCormick Tribune fellows has been substantive and productive. This has included organizing a seminar series of speakers from policy, research and practice backgrounds devoted to cutting-edge issues in community development,” said Robert Chaskin, Associate Professor in SSA and a specialist on community development who works with CDA. “It’s also included arranging site visits to community programs and development projects, such as those associated with components of the Chicago Housing Authority transformation plan.”
“We are a strategic planning and research organization,” said Mark Joseph, a principal at the firm and manager of its Chicago office, located at 950 E. 61st St., adjacent to SSA. “Our mission is to help support community change efforts by building organizational capacity, developing strategies and promoting learning.
“It’s an incredible time to be involved in community development here at the University,” Joseph added. “The University is committed to raising its profile in community development, and there are new SSA faculty members with a strong interest in it.”
The firm does its work by providing documentation of local activities, supporting actions that bring improvement, creating opportunities for reflection and study of the changes, and training community leaders to help them implement change, Joseph said.
“We’ve also been available to provide advice to students interested in careers in this field of work,” Joseph said.
Liz Wills, another member of the team, said: “I talk almost every day with a student. I share practical information about community development work and how you can do development work as a career. I think all of us go into this work as something of a calling. But it’s also a way of making a difference that can provide intellectual satisfaction.”
Joseph received a Ph.D. from the Harris School in 2000 and was previously a Research Associate at the Chapin Hall Center for Children, where he did strategic planning and evaluation on neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Wills, also a principal with the firm, has done much of her work in New York. Most recently she has focused on youth-development and faith-based initiatives.
The third member of the Chicago team is associate Joseph Hoereth, who has worked at the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University in Chicago, where he coordinated evaluations and other research projects for community-based organizations.
“It’s great being in a university setting, working with students who challenge us with questions that don’t have easy answers,” Hoereth said.
CDA, which was founded in New York, also is involved in other projects in Chicago, including planning projects in the neighborhoods around the University. The firm also is working closely with the Office of Community and Governmental Affairs at the University.