This October, four HOPE SF public housing residents joined the San Francisco Integration Initiative Team at a Dallas Learning Community.

This post originally appeared on the San Francisco Foundation blog on November 11, 2015.

We are thrilled to share Living Cities’ announcement that San Francisco’s HOPE SF initiative will participate over the next three years in the Living Cities Integration Initiative (TII), which supports civic leaders who are reshaping their communities to increase opportunities for low-income people. We join our colleagues in Albuquerque, New Orleans, Seattle/King County, Baltimore, Newark and Minneapolis/St. Paul in this opportunity.

Three times a year, the cities participate in knowledge exchanges, known as “Learning Communities.” This October, four HOPE SF public housing residents joined the San Francisco team, including staff from the Mayor’s office, the public health department, the school district and philanthropy at the Learning Community.

HOPESF Residents joined the Oct 2015 Integration Initiative Learning Community

The TII Team and HOPE SF Residents in Dallas.

This is the first time people who live in public housing—the very communities we are serving—came with us. Their participation had a profound impact on the work. It was a reminder that residents are essential to the discussion, contributing to planning and budgeting, helping with communication and outreach, learning and sharing best practices, and most importantly, making sure that the decisions “about them are not made without them”. One resident passionately reminded us, “I want to continue to stay connected and do what I can. Let us work with you.”

The Knowledge Exchange was a new kind of leadership opportunity for HOPE SF residents, who hold leadership positions in their communities. Introducing them to the work on a national level was empowering.

“I was an outsider looking in on what these kinds of meetings look like. I was proud to be there, representing the actual experiences of low income people. I was able to bring a different perspective to the conversation.”

HOPE SF Youth Leader at a Learning Community HOPE SF Community Member at TII Learning Community

HOPE SF Community Members at the TII Learning Community.

Once back in San Francisco, I interviewed the four community leaders who joined us: P.J., who works at the community center; Urell, the “bus driver” for the walking school bus; James, a community health worker; and Briana, a youth leader, who attends college.

“All of us came back home and told everyone about the Living Cities meeting. I am in touch with PJ and Urell. We’re all not that far from each other. It was very good for all of us—different, exciting, and overwhelming because of level of problems, happening everywhere. Man! There is a lot going on that I didn’t realize.”

Over the two days in Dallas, HOPE SF residents and our city’s directors grappled with the most complex issues in our neighborhoods today – health, education, jobs, housing and safety.

“I learned that we can’t do it by ourselves. One organization can only reach so many people and can only do so much. We are a stronger force when we work together.”

The Learning Community presented an opportunity to share different perspectives.

“We don’t always get to meet other city leaders. They were great people. It was helpful to hear from them about how hard it is to get work done.”

Getting time away from the demands of home and work to focus on HOPE SF was rewarding for all of us.

“I was in awe of all the people from across the country working for the betterment of low income communities.”

We humbly confronted our previous failures.

“I was happy to see others questioning what is happening in low income communities. I enjoyed being able to communicate with those in higher up positions in different fields, who are helping others.”

Residents grounded the conversation in the realities of life in public housing.

“I saw shock in your faces, hearing us talk about our actual experiences, living in our neighborhoods. Things were coming to your attention that only residents know.”

I am excited to share more from future Learning Community meet ups, and in the meantime, I hope that you will check out the first HOPE SF digital magazine that features stories from residents and sign up to receive more information quarterly and follow along and learn more about the power of engaging the community.