Opportunity Communities Program: Building Opportunity Rich Neighborhoods and Developing Pathways to Opportunity

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Kirwan Opportunity Communities

What is Opportunity Communities

Opportunity Communities – Identifies, builds understanding, and eliminates racialized structural barriers to opportunity in critical domains including equitable and sustainable communities, criminal justice, education, and health and health care to build opportunity-rich neighborhoods.

The Kirwan Institute supports racially equitable policy and capacity building through its Opportunity Communities model.  This model considers the multiplicity of factors such as housing, education, jobs, transportation, health, and engagement that stand at the center of one’s life and community.  All of the work of the Kirwan Institute begins with the premise that everyone should have fair access to the critical opportunity structures and the social infrastructure needed to succeed in life, and the belief that affirmatively connecting people to opportunity creates positive, transformative change in communities. The Communities of Opportunity model advocates for a fair investment in all people and neighborhoods to improve the life outcomes of all citizens and to improve the health of entire regions. 

Why Opportunity Matters

Fair access to opportunity is critical to promoting well-being and advancement in any society. Accessing opportunity to better our lives and our children’s lives motivates us to move across town, across the country, or across the world for better jobs, a quality education, a healthy environment, or safety from violence. Fair access to opportunity is also essential to produce a truly democratic society. In the context of community development, neighborhoods are the primary environments in which we access key opportunity structures. Neighborhoods often determine access to critical opportunities needed to excel in our society, such as high-performing schools, sustainable employment, stable housing, safe neighborhoods and health care.

Fifty years of social science research has demonstrated that isolated and disadvantaged neighborhoods restrict employment options for young people, contribute to poor health, expose children to extremely high rates of crime and violence, and contain some of the poorest performing schools. Neighborhood racial and economic segregation is also segregation from opportunities critical to quality of life, financial stability, and social advancement. Isolation and disinvestment threaten not only individuals and their families, but entire communities.