Power of partnerships evident in community transformation

The cornerstone of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative is the Mary L. Kelly Center, which, since opening in 2013, has provided thousands of hours of fitness, academic, and nutrition programming to the 11,000 residents of Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek

The cornerstone of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative is the Mary L. Kelly Center, which, since opening in 2013, has provided thousands of hours of fitness, academic, and nutrition programming to the 11,000 residents of Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek

Members of AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps spent 12 weeks living and working in our neighborhoods, hand-in-hand (sometimes literally!) with residents. In all, the team contributed nearly 5,500 hours of direct service to the residents of Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek.

Upper Room has been working with dozens of partner organizations to implement a Neighborhood Transformation Initiative in two urban core Kansas City neighborhoods — Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek.


Since 2011, we at the Upper Room have been working with dozens of partner organizations to implement our Neighborhood Transformation Initiative in two urban core Kansas City neighborhoods — Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek.

Our NTI is simultaneously comprehensive — tackling education, health, housing, and jobs — and grassroots — relying on strong neighborhood associations and “resident-leaders” of all ages.

The cornerstone of the NTI is our Mary L. Kelly Center, which, since opening in 2013, has provided thousands of hours of fitness, academic, and nutrition programming to the 11,000 residents of Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek. Even more importantly, the center has been the hub of advocacy for residents fighting to reduce the 13-year life expectancy disparity between children born near the center and their more affluent peers in the metro area.

This advocacy has seen great success in a short amount of time:

  • dozens of block captains recruited
  • cooperation with liquor store owners to crack down on crime
  • significant funds secured from PIAC to restore the Town Fork Creek Greenway, a beautiful park anchoring a mile-long walking trail.

Did you know?

  • Block captains are the “boots on the ground” for the neighborhood association, cataloguing abandoned homes, illegal dumping, crime, and codes violations.
  • A liquor store in Town Fork Creek that was the site of a horrific gun homicide a few years ago has historically attracted loitering, public intoxication, and property crime. Earlier this year, after an Upper Room community organizer reached out to the store’s new owners, they installed cameras and improved their partnership with the KCPD. Crime has since declined.

These early “wins” demonstrated the capacity of the work within the center — meeting, coordinating, strategizing — to extend beyond its four walls. The power of the center is to build the bonds among and capacity of residents to advocate on their own behalf to build neighborhoods worthy of themselves.

To that end, we were blessed this spring by what still seems like a miracle: a group of 11 young adults who left us with a new sense of what’s possible. Members of AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps spent 12 weeks living and working in our neighborhoods, hand-in-hand (sometimes literally!) with residents. Prior to their arrival, Upper Room staff and residents alike created a strategy to tackle the neighborhoods’ greatest need: improving the built environment so residents are safe, healthy, and able to age in place.

Despite our planning, we did not anticipate the sheer productivity of the team.

In all, the team contributed nearly 5,500 hours of direct service to the residents of Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek. Coordinating with community organizers and block captains, the team removed 300 pounds of illegally-dumped debris and a literal ton of exotic vegetation from abandoned lots and properties. At Blue Hills Community Services and St. Therese Little Flower, the team planted produce, increasing supply of locally-sourced, nutritious food. In partnership with the ReFresh Program, they painted 22 homes for senior citizens, allowing residents to age in place. In the evenings, the team and block captains canvassed door-to-door, completing needs surveys and promoting the Kelly Center and neighborhood associations. And they did all of this before providing one-on-one reading tutoring to 355 students in our Summer Program!

Due to the hard work of our staff, committed leaders in Blue Hills and Town Fork Creek, and generous support of the Health Care Foundation and others, our NTI has seen early success in improving lives in the urban core. Our experience with the NCCC serves as a reminder of the power of partnership among organizations and residents to build healthier neighborhoods from the ground up.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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