The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative will see a change at the top next year. Leonard Brock plans to leave his role as executive director in June.
Brock was chosen to lead the initiative nearly five years ago. He points to the establishment of a firm foundation at RMAPI as the right time for new leadership.
“When I became RMAPI’s executive director in 2015, I wanted to help create a coalition that would be cohesive and bold enough to tackle the deeply entrenched problems that have created poverty in Rochester,” Brock said. “As a community, we should all be proud of how far we have come—together—in helping people move out of poverty and changing the conditions that have created poverty in Rochester and Monroe County for many decades.”
RMAPI is a multisector community collaborative that aims to improve quality of life by reducing poverty and increasing self-sufficiency. It has developed three guiding principles to inform its work and serve as a guide for community decision-making: address structural racism, address trauma, and build community.
Starting in 2015, with Brock at the helm of a small backbone team, a coalition of more than 30 organizations developed a shared strategy and began to address both the short-term needs of communities struggling with poverty and the longer-term systemic changes needed to change the community’s trajectory.
“We applaud the work of Dr. Brock in bringing our community together and creating a firm foundation for this very important work,” RMAPI co-chairs Jerome Underwood and Daan Braveman said. “The successes we have seen at the individual level—helping people move out of poverty—and addressing the conditions that created poverty are encouraging. This should give the community confidence in the promise of this new model of collaborative action.
“The next leader of RMAPI’s backbone staff will stand on the firm foundation set by Dr. Brock and RMAPI’s coalition members. The future for this work, and our community, is bright.”
Under Brock’s leadership, RMAPI has worked to build support around anti-poverty efforts. A key element of these efforts was the input from and active participation of those affected by poverty. Brock and coalition members helped move RMAPI toward two initial priorities: workforce development and the access and affordability of basic needs.
Some of RMAPI’s achievements so far include:
■ The adult mentoring program: Initiated through RMAPI, this is a collaboration of Action for a Better Community, Catholic Family Center, and the Community Place of Greater Rochester. It is about to release results from the completion of its two-year pilot.
■ The Young Adult Manufacturing and Training Employment Program: A job training program aimed at people affected by poverty, it has trained more than 250 young people in advanced manufacturing skills, helping more than 170 find sustainable employment. RMAPI secured state funding to support this program in 2018.
■ The Monroe County Systems Integration Project: Grown out of a recommendation from RMAPI’s first progress report, the project is an effort to establish connections between 300 local health, education, and human services organizations to give people in poverty better access to services and information, as well as give providers better information to assist clients and patients.
■ A series of policies to assist people in poverty: These include the Raise the Age legislation to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18, a statewide enactment of bail reform, and a ban on landlord discrimination based on source of income.
■ Alignment of principles: Funders have aligned priorities with RMAPI’s and integrated its guiding principles in funding applications to ensure dollars invested in poverty alleviation are in line with the community’s strategy.
The RMAPI Steering Committee, led by Braveman, president of Nazareth College, and Underwood, president and CEO of Action for a Better Community, will design and share a search process for a new leader for the backbone staff, officials say. Community members, especially those affected by poverty, will be part of this search process.
Leading the initiative has not been an easy road for Brock, who started the role amid much hype and high aspirations. Over the years, community members have questioned RMAPI’s efforts at poverty reduction. Still, Brock plans to continue to help the community in the same realm, developing economic opportunities to achieve equity.
“Moving out of poverty is the first step on a journey to self-sufficiency,” he said. “I want to continue this important work, helping to drive community economic development in ways that open new doors for those affected by poverty. The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is power. RMAPI has helped to empower those affected by poverty, and I hope to continue this work in Rochester after handing over leadership of the backbone team.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.