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Codman Square Health Center: Finalist's Statement

Social Capitalists

Codman Square Health Center

The Codman Square community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, experienced the worst blight of any neighborhood in Boston from 1965-1990. Once a thriving commercial district surrounded by 60,000 white working and middle class residents, the area underwent a dramatic demographic transformation that left the area in chaos.

The net result of this transformation was dire. The new population was un- and undereducated, with high rates of poor health indicators, a high crime rate, and low expectations for being able to achieve healthy or successful lives. The economic depression that followed was expressed in two ways -- houses burned at a rate of one per day on average during the mid-1970s, and large parts of the commercial district burned in riots following the blizzard of 1978.

It was into this chaos that the Codman Square Health Center was formed. The leaders of the effort to start a health center were not medical people. They were residents who had had enough of the chaos, and wanted to make a statement by their actions that their neighborhood was worth saving, that there could be racial peace, and that the historic commercial center could be rebuilt.

The purpose of the Codman Square Health Center is to revitalize the central Dorchester community and provide hope and opportunity to its residents. It uses healthcare as its vehicle to leverage other resources, and experiments with radical concepts in an effort to create new models for non-profit organizations to achieve hope and opportunity. It also has led the way in innovation for community based non profits to achieve financial stability while maintaining their cultural and community identity. As such, you could say that Codman Square Health Center represents a form of "serial entrepreneurship" which solves problems in various ways while creating new models along the way and always moving toward its goal of creating a community of hope and opportunity.

The Codman Square Health Center over its 25 years of operations has become a major provider of services and a leader in community development. It occupies five buildings (all formerly abandoned), employs over 250 people, and saw over 160,000 people for services last year. Between employees and those coming to the health center for services and events, over 16,000 people per month come to Codman Square, forming the customer base for the entire commercial district, which is now nearly completely occupied.

While the service core is medical services (including primary care, urgent care, dentistry, eye care, behavioral health, specialty care, radiology and other clinical services, and public health programs, including an extensive HIV program and environmental health), the Health Center recognizes that the key problems facing the poor urban residents of Boston are not medical problems. Rather, the medical problems are symptoms of the diseases of poverty whose roots are social, behavioral and environmental. In its efforts to deal with these issues, the Health Center has created a number of programs: a Civic Health Institute to engage residents in civic action, education programs to provide adults with college credit courses as a means to enter higher education, a youth center to provide children with educational opportunities after school, a technology training center to deal with the inadequate computer training that affects most of the residents, and a business called Cybershop, which trains girls in business development and operations.

In addition, the health center is a center of training over 75 students, and has programs in South Africa, Vietnam, and Northern Ireland.

The Codman Square Health Center has also developed two very innovative partnerships. DotWell, a partnership of Codman Square with Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, another very innovative community center, has merged a number of operations in an effort to save money (more than $500,000 per year) and create more management depth. This partnership has allowed both health centers to thrive in uncertain times. The second is the creation of Codman Academy Charter School. The only public school located within a health center, it provides its low income students with opportunities only found in private schools (see for more information on this fantastic school, described by one European educational leader as the best public school in America).

Codman Square has not achieved a state of nirvana. However, though the efforts of the Health Center and its partners, it has become a community that has the ability to solve it problems, celebrate its diversity, and create a steady trend of improvement, in short, developing a community of hope and opportunity.

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The above information was provided by the profiled organization.