About 30 volunteers went door to door to East Gainesville residents on a rainy Saturday morning, providing resources and asking survey question to help improve the community’s standard of living.
It was the third year that the nonprofit Gainesville 4 All organized the door-knocking day to help families and communities in the area boarded by Waldo Road, Northeast 16th Avenue, Northeast 9th Street and Northeast 39th Avenue, also known as the Gainesville Empowerment Zone.
The volunteers, comprised of local college and high school students and concerned residents, were excited to go out into the neighborhoods. They handed out bags with flyers and resources, ranging from free internet services to information about cancer prevention. They also asked residents to complete surveys on their smartphones to understand their needs and concerns.
The survey responses will help Gainesville 4 All, which focuses on addressing racial and economic inequities in the community, include resident input in its plans for establishing the GEZ Family Learning Center. The learning center would help serve low-income families and their young children beginning at pregnancy and through kindergarten in these neighborhoods with wide disparities in every sociological and economic stratum of the community including housing, health, transportation and criminal justice, according to a 2018 report.
The organization celebrated its fifth anniversary by returning to the area to follow up with residents from their last survey in the fall of 2018, James Lawrence, Gainesville 4 All’s executive director, said.
“We’re coming back to check in with people and that’s important for communities like the ones that we’re trying to serve,” Lawrence said. “To know that we’re serious about advocacy and that we’re just not a one-shot deal that shows up doing research and use people as they too often are used.”
Volunteers started piling into the parking lot of Faith Mission at 9 a.m., signing in and getting their ‘Gainesville Empowerment Zone’ T-shirts before being assigned into one of the three teams that would each go into different surrounding neighborhoods.
Pastor Gerard Duncan, founder and senior pastor of Prayers by Faith Outreach Ministries, instructed the volunteers on how to approach residents properly, including door knocking tips and an emphasis on respecting their boundaries.
Rev. Clair Carter, 34, director of Family Empowerment at the Trinity United Methodist Church and the Circles of Gainesville program, said she supports and encourages all the Gainesville 4 All is doing and learning how to work together for the goals of the neighborhood.
“I am pleased to have James out here lead everything and moving us towards understanding our neighbors, what they’re dealing with, what their hopes are and how we can find common ground,” she said.
As part of the University of Florida’s office of political affairs associated with the Hispanic Student Association and one of the volunteers, Johana Mejia said her role consists of finding opportunities for UF students to go beyond and explore the local communities.
“This is a great opportunity for us to learn more about the socioeconomic issues surrounding us and I just love encouraging students to come out and help out,” the 19-year-old said.
By 10:15 a.m. the three teams headed out into their respective areas, knocking on doors, talking to residents about the resources they are offering and having them answer the survey questions.
The canvassing survey asked residents to name two of their biggest daily challenges in the last year, ranging in options like food, affordable utilities, transportation, housing, employment, high-quality childcare, access to a doctor or dentist, personal safety and mental health.
“And with that information, it’s going to help us with our plans for opening the Gainesville Empowerment Zone Family Learning Center,” James Lawrence said.
Lawrence said members of Gainesville 4 All met with the Alachua County School District on Thursday to negotiate a memorandum of understanding to house their Family Learning Center at Metcalfe Elementary School. They hope to finalize the location by the end of the year.
The center advances the organization’s focus on shrinking the achievement gap between Black and white students in the county, Lawrence said. They will use data from the survey responses to identify specific services families need to improve their children’s academic performance.
“Right now, too many African American children are showing up for kindergarten already behind, and they never catch up,” he said.
Lawrence said he also hopes that their work and project encourages the school district and state to start redesigning public education to help close the achievement gap.
After each team of volunteers returned from canvassing in their assigned areas at noon, food and drinks were passed around. Volunteers celebrated the organization’s anniversary as Lawrence and other Gainesville 4 All members thanked everyone for their work.
Wanda Nichols, a registered nurse on the Family Support Team for Gainesville 4 All said she hopes that engaging with the communities allowed them to be open to the organization’s help in supporting these families.
“We want to make sure that we’re supporting the community and that we have resources at [the GEZ Family Learning Center] to serve communities and families,” Nichols said.