Meet a Changemaker: Sherrice Dorsey-Smith at San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and their Families

Sherrice Dorsey-Smith

As school transitioned online due to COVID-19, Sherrice Dorsey-Smith and the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF) team launched the Community Hubs Initiative to support students with distance learning. As Deputy Director of DCYF Programs and Grants, Sherrice played a pivotal architectural role in designing, developing, and implementing a network of neighborhood-based hubs that could safely provide technology and in-person, educational programming to students and families with high levels of need.

In this latest article of our “Meet a Changemaker” blog series, we spotlight Sherrice’s behind-the-scenes work and learn how silo-busting collaboration and an equity-focused approach were crucial to bringing Community Hubs to life.

Follow DCYF on Twitter @SF_DCYF, Medium @sf-dcyf and Sherrice on LinkedIn.

Can you describe your role at the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families?

I currently serve as the Deputy Director of Programs, Planning, and Grants. In my role, I am responsible for the Department’s funding strategies, leading the coordination that’s necessary to implement our grantmaking portfolio, technical assistance and capacity building work, as well as our Nutrition Initiative which is designed to ensure the basic nutrition needs of our City’s youth and young people are met.

I also support internal planning and oversight for several key program initiatives including MYEEP (Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program) and our Community Collaboratives strategy: Black to the Future, Roadmap to Peace and the Pacific Islander Collaborative.

What makes me love my job is that I can connect with youth, families and the countless individuals who power our citywide community-based organizations (CBOs). We have a direct impact on their lives through our ability to bridge that gap between how programming works on the ground and how we work in government. I know our work ensures children and their families have access to the necessary resources and quality services they need to be able to thrive and be successful — who wouldn’t want to come to work every day to make this happen?

Mission YMCA’s Coach JAM is hanging up the daily schedule at the Bernal Heights Branch Library Community Hub

During the COVID-19 crisis, many City departments have had to redesign their services to better meet the needs of San Franciscans. DCYF, in partnership with other City departments and community organizations, launched the Community Hubs Initiative on September 14 to provide in-person support for distance learning curriculum and out of school time activities. As a leader behind this initiative, what were some main considerations that went into developing Community Hubs?

When we learned SFUSD was returning to full remote learning in the Fall, our main consideration was ensuring there would not be a repeat of the Spring semester. When we had reviewed the 2020 Spring semester student performance data including school attendance, we learned hardly any children were logging into distance learning. We knew we had to do something.

On a Friday, Mayor London Breed instructed our Director Maria Su and our team to come up with solutions and supports for our City’s students. From that initial conversation, we began to think critically about how we can meet this challenge.

Over that weekend, Maria and I brainstormed and birthed the Community Hubs concept and envisioned what this Initiative could look like across multisector partnerships. We understood the need to have quality support for distance learning; to ensure youth are fed and their basic nutrition needs met; to ensure students have access to digital devices and strong wifi connectivity; and have Hubs staffed by professionally certified youth development specialists with access to PPEs (personal protective equipment), cleaning supplies and strong health and safety protocols. To meet this challenge, we were certain we didn’t need to recreate the wheel — our best asset is our CBO partners who already do this work.

Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco Visitacion Valley Community Hub member guiding two Hub participants in an outdoor artwork activity.

The target population was a no-brainer. We understood the need to prioritize our most vulnerable populations from youth in public and SRO housing, in foster care or who were homeless. We also knew we wanted to focus on African-Americans, Latinx, Pacific Islanders, and Asians in low-income families along with our English Language Learners (ELL). It was one of our top priorities to provide full-day programs which provide working family hours to support these priority groups.

Additionally, we didn’t want families to have to travel far to the Community Hubs. With reduced access to public transportation, we knew commuting to a Hub is a big concern so having a neighborhood-based approach was another consideration.

Collaborative partnerships is a huge factor in the development of the Community Hubs. We realized that we needed to have true partnerships and collaborations with other City departments — the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), HOPE SF, Department of Technology, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD), Human Services Agency (HSA) and our key partners, the Recreation and Parks Department (RPD) and SF Public Library where Hubs are being hosted at Branch Libraries and Rec Centers staffed by RPD staff. We also partnered with SFUSD. It was especially important to work with CBOs, bringing them on in the beginning to get their input on how we can make Community Hubs as effortless and effective as possible. And once the Hubs were up and running, we continued to bring our CBO partners together twice a month to share learnings and best practices with each other. In this process, there was and continues to be a lot of moving pieces.

Hub participant completing his homework assignment at the Asian Pacific Community Center Hub operated in partnership with the Samoan Community Development Center

I’m sure there’s a lot of them, but what is one of your favorite moments from working on the Community Hubs?

When we launched the Community Hub Initiative in September, we opened fourteen sites in the first week. Just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and the relief on some of the parents’ faces was definitely a favorite moment.

As we continued to open Hubs throughout the City in October, I learned there was a little girl attending the Hub for the first time and that was her first day of attending kindergarten. She came into the Hub, sat down, opened her laptop, and as she logged in, she asked, “Is that my teacher?!?” The staff supporting her realized she has never seen her teacher. Because she didn’t have a device or internet connection at home, she had never logged onto her class portal which began on August 17. Hearing about the huge smile on her face and the excitement in her voice, it was just amazing. And what’s even more amazing is knowing that this is the reaction from so many kids across the Hubs throughout the City.

A young girl attending kindergarten on her first day of Community Hubs.

We also have some older youth who said that if they weren’t able to come to a Hub, they probably wouldn’t have logged into distance learning at all. These are youth who, even prior to COVID-19, were skipping school. And now, they’re on the honor roll and have 3.5 GPAs. With Community Hubs, they have a space to go to with caring and supporting adults who they don’t want to let down. Now, these youth don’t want to let themselves down because they’ve seen their own potential and know that they can do the work.

I have a lot of favorite moments and stories — but it really comes down to knowing that because we opened the doors, there is a tremendous impact on our children and youth.

Mission YMCA’s Spanish speaking pod in session at the Bernal Heights Branch Library Community Hub

What does civic innovation mean to you?

In our work standing up the Community Hubs, we were able to break down silos and red tape which is typically experienced within government structures. Eliminating these barriers helped with coordination as we rolled out the Hubs. We didn’t have to jump through the standard hoops to get things done such as procurement. This sense of urgency helped us support our CBOs in ways we have always wanted to provide support. For example, the ability to provide resources they need the next day instead of two months later.

So for me, civic innovation is definitely about breaking down silos to get things done. What is so beautiful about the Community Hubs Initiative is that our City partners are able to see themselves in the work — they can see their direct impact on our City’s youth and children. So they were even more willing to do away with the red tape, open themselves up to being nimble, thinking outside the box or “blue sky” thinking. We continue to have ongoing conversations about the next steps for the Initiative and how we can create even more impact from our existing partnerships. For example, the Department of Technology began with onsite assessments like checking the wiring at Community Hubs to leaning in and offering additional assistance like how they might provide additional professional development, technology, and grant opportunities. This has led to even bigger conversations about systemic change and implementation, exploration around other areas of alignment, and learning how to work together in a collective impact model.

Being a civic innovator also means keeping hold of what your purpose is and using that to energize ways to do things differently. Communities are different now. Cities are different now. We can’t be satisfied with antiquated practices. Never stop trying to be better.

Fun question - What’s your favorite landmark in San Francisco?

Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39. I love getting a bag of mini doughnuts and then going to look at the seals and the bay.

ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND THEIR FAMILIES

The Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF) has administered San Francisco’s powerful investments in children, youth, transitional age youth, and their families through the Children and Youth Fund since 1991. With a deep commitment to advancing equity and healing trauma, we bring together government agencies, schools, and community-based organizations to strengthen our communities to lead full lives of opportunity and happiness. Together, we make San Francisco a great place to grow up.

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San Francisco Office of Civic Innovation

San Francisco Office of Civic Innovation

San Francisco Office of Civic Innovation, making @sfgov more collaborative, inventive and responsive to San Franciscans. #civicinnovation