People, Parks, and Power: The Conscious Connect Completes Second Year of P3 Grant

Looking Back at Major Accomplishments and Going Forward with Gusto

A $500,000 grant to promote park equity in Springfield enhanced how the community views the need for parks and greenspaces.

“If we stop today, that alone is a victory,” says Moses B. Mbeseha, co-founder of The Conscious Connect, the local nonprofit organization that was awarded a national People, Parks, and Power grant in 2022.

But the work isn’t stopping, he says. As the two-year P3 grant comes to a close this month, the organization reflected on the advances that were made thanks to the grant, as well as what comes next.

During the first phase of the P3 initiative over the last two years, The Conscious Connect was able to continue to build its coalition, train resident advocates, conduct research and enhance its communications, he says. The funding speeded up local efforts to improve park equity.

A survey focusing on the southside of Springfield regarding park accessibility, amenities, programming and safety garnered 250 responses – mostly from current or former residents of the 45505 and 45506 zip codes. Its results gave the group an anchor for its advocacy, Mbeseha says. 

“Essentially it’s taking it now to the next level,” he says.

That includes coming together with local governments, businesses, organizations and foundations to create a strategic plan for the future. Systems change is a longer process than two years, he says.

The next phase of the effort includes advocacy and policy action to determine ways to sustain local parks and greenspaces. That includes sustainable funding, but also in-kind support, he says. For example, in Dayton the city public works department has used its time and trucks to uproot dead trees, he says.

Another goal is finding a way to prioritize a multi-amenity park on the southside of Springfield, he says.

Mbeseha called the efforts “vocational work.”

“This is the beginning, because the work is really just getting started,” he says.

In addition to making policy recommendations, next steps also include solidifying a communications plan, says Destinye Arnold, project manager for The Conscious Connect and the leader of the local P3 effort.

Target audiences include both residents and government officials – both of which may be interested in different topics and communicating in different ways, she says.

Arnold also says that an interactive GIS map is expected to be released within the next few months with geographic information like streets and locations, as well as a wide variety of data such as crime, environmental factors and historical racial details, such as redlining. The map will be available to the public as well.

The grant also helped to strengthen The Conscious Connect’s relationship with other local organizations, whether that be through conversations with city and parks departments or through applying with like-minded groups within the Unified Collective for funding to maintain parks and greenspaces, Arnold says.

While the Unified Collective – a group of organizations working together to revitalize the south side of Springfield – existed before the P3 grant was awarded, it expanded to 10 organizations afterward, she says.

“We have so many wins which we’re excited about, but we plan to continue that momentum,” she says.

P3 funding was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, while the initiative was led and managed by Prevention Institute, a national public health nonprofit. P3 grants were awarded to 14 groups throughout the country and Puerto Rico, from Los Angeles to the South Bronx in New York.

The Conscious Connect has applied for phase two funding through Prevention Institute but hasn’t yet learned if it has been awarded, Arnold says. Regardless, the work will continue.

Springfield was one of the smaller urban locations that received the initial grant, says Grace Cotangco, program manager for Prevention Institute, which oversaw the national P3 cohort that aimed to reverse park and greenspace inequities in Black, Latino and indigenous communities.

“The root of the park inequities that they’re experiencing is really racial injustice and land injustice,” she says.

From the beginning of the grant process, however, it was evident that The Conscious Connect was interested in the benefits to the community as well as solidifying public-private partnerships, she says.

“There seemed to be a clear vision for what they wanted in their community,” Cotangco says.

In the last two years, the Conscious Connect has assembled a growing number of partners through the Unified Collective, captured the perspective of the community through its survey, built a rapport with public agencies and is becoming a trusted voice in the community.

“They’re in a place now where they can really begin to look at policy development,” she says.

The construction of parks is essential in the effort to address park inequities, but building even one can take many years, she says. The P3 approach to focus on policy and systems change means that many more parks can be built all at once. 

“It’s so much more impactful and transformational,” Cotangco says.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.