Ask city officials about the decrease in violent gang crime in town and they will invariably point to the (MAP) program as a key piece of the puzzle.
The city-sponsored program focuses on reducing crime and blight by providing tools for residents to become more involved in their communities. And despite budget cuts that have impacted every aspect of the city's operations, the city insists MAP will continue to play a vital role in uniting the city.
Still, the highly touted program, which teaches residents to harness the power of local government by learning about and getting involved in their communities, must contend with an ever-shrinking budget. During her on January 24th, Mayor Mary Ann Lutz said that MAP will now have to compete with other city programs for limited funds.
“The end of redevelopment in California doesn't have to mean the end of affordable housing. It doesn't have to mean the end of economic development, or blight eradication or neighborhood improvement,” Lutz said during her state of the city address.
“Let me say now, we do not intend for MAP to go away. We're going to find a solution,” Lutz said.
The approach of MAP has always been centered around people, said Community Relations Specialist Alexis Newell, formerly the Neighborhood Services Specialist for the MAP program in 2011.
“It’s really very positive and empowering. Once you become a part of it, it’s like joining a new family of sorts,” Newell said.
When the MAP program started about four years ago, it focused mostly on the southeast quadrant of the city, which had higher incidences of blight and crime. It also offered home improvement grants to qualifying Monrovians as part of their mission to reduce blight.
Over the years, MAP has evolved and expanded into more neighborhoods. MAP’s functions include an annual neighborhood conference, a “Thriving Neighborhood” survey, and a resident leadership academy that has graduated about 75 residents.
People who enroll in the academy receive leadership training to become more involved in their neighborhoods. Academy graduates organize events and establish Neighborhood Watch groups. Many are also involved with other organizations, such as the and the . MAP leaders also organized Monrovia’s first event and the program.
“It’s effects are felt throughout the city,” Newell said.
Newell said that people who get involved in MAP can participate in different ways based on their skill sets. Some MAP leaders are in the spotlight more and some do more work behind the scenes. For instance, one leader might serve as the president of a neighborhood association, while another might work with MAP’s Facebook page and other online media.
“We encourage everyone to find their own way of getting involved in the community,” Newell said.
Currently, the youngest participant in the MAP program is just 16 years old, Newell said. MAP is working with local organizations such as the and the to develop a youth leadership academy.
“We’re trying to partner our adult leaders with future youth leaders and add a mentorship element to it,” Newell said. “There are more voices coming from different areas of the city. I think it will create a better and more cohesive Monrovia."
Since its inception in 2006, MAP has won numerous awards locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, Newell said.
“The awards are really just about what neighbors are doing in the community,” she said.
Newell cited Sherman Avenue, a Monrovia neighborhood that had been the site of gang violence in 2008. In 2010, residents who attended the MAP leadership program organized the neighborhood’s a movie night and potluck, bringing neighbors together in a public event for the first time.
When a fence where the movie screen was to be set up was graffitied shortly before movie night, a MAP participant took action. The participant contacted the property owner, then volunteers painted over the graffiti with barbecue brushes. It would have taken the city days to clean it up, but thanks to neighborly resourcefulness, Sherman Avenue’s movie night was saved, Newell said.
“I think sometimes people don’t realize what a resource they themselves are,” Newell said. “Sometimes, it can be done locally, with your own barbecue brush.”