Sampling of Success
The Lakeland Vision process has Vision Partners and Community Collaborators working on many strategies and moving toward the benchmarks called for in the Vision Document. The items below are successes since Lakeland Vision’s inception in 1998 that probably would not have been initiated if the Lakeland community had not committed to the Vision process.
MENTORING ALLIANCE – The Lakeland Chamber, after selecting this strategy at a retreat, formed an alliance with Polk County Schools and placed over 850 new mentors in the Metro Lakeland area schools in the first year. It is estimated that 5 students in every classroom could benefit from a mentor.The Mentoring Alliance received a three year grant totaling $231,000 from United Way of Central Florida to recruit, train, place, and recognize mentors and evaluate the success of children who are mentored. Based on its success, the Alliance became a countywide effort operated by the Polk County School Board’s Community Involvement Department.
ANNEXATION – At the urging of the Chamber of Commerce, after selecting this strategy at a retreat, the City began an aggressive annexation drive. Since November 2000 the City of Lakeland annexed eight areas into the City via voter referendum. Three additional large tracts of land were incorporated into the City through voluntary annexation soon thereafter, and annexation efforts continued.
PARTNER WITH PRESIDENTS’ COUNCIL OF NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATIONS – An alliance was formed between Lakeland Vision, the Lakeland area neighborhood associations, and the City’s Neighborhood Services Division. The alliance worked very hard to bring all neighborhood associations together around the entire county. An associate conference was held in 2000, and annually since, with many municipalities, plus our County neighborhood associations participating. Over 500 people participated in training programs at each conference. This Alliance was the foundation for the current Neighborhood Association Coalition who received our Spirit of the Vision award.
ADOPT-A-LAKE WORKING IN ALLIANCE WITH VISION PARTNERS – The City of Lakeland worked with an infrastructure sub committee of Lakeland Vision to bring neighborhood association, civic groups, churches, businesses, etc. together to join in on the adopt-a-lake effort to continue to help and support improving the quality of our lakes. They researched and planned a litter education and prevention program for the City. The program, called Citizen Litter Patrol, is now operated by Lakeland Clean and Beautiful in partnership with Lakeland Police Department.
TREE ALLIANCE – The Tree Alliance (Imperial Polk Shade Tree Society) was formed with the mission of protecting our metro Lakeland image and environment by planting and conserving trees. They have conducted tree plantings throughout the City, advocated successfully for a tree ordinance (2003), established a memorial tree program, and have begun an advocacy campaign to revise the tree ordinance.
HIGH TECH/HIGH SKILL INITIATIVE – The Lakeland Economic Development Council formed a High Skill Task Force based on a Vision strategy and in response to a number of Vision volunteers advocacy. This led to LEDC’s initiative to develop and recruit more high skill businesses to this area.
FOCUS ON LEADERSHIP – Through the efforts of John Fitzwater, the Ledger, and the Minority Business Council of the Chamber, based on a strategy the Chamber selected at a retreat, this program was adopted from a successful minority leadership program in Gainesville, Florida. The program identifies and trains minority leaders and encourages them to become involved in the community. Many Focus on Leadership Alumni are involved in various Lakeland Vision strategies.
COMMUNITY CELEBRATION – Created by the Minority Business Council of the Chamber and based on a Vision strategy adopted at a Chamber retreat, the CommUnity Celebration has become an annual tradition. The event has been held at the Lakeland Center with renowned keynote speakers. Several hundred people, with attendance growing each year, joined in each Celebration to further the vision of racial harmony in our community.
SELECTED SUPERINTENDENT – Led by Lakeland Vision’s Education Foundation Chairman, Hunt Berryman, the Chambers and Polk Businesses for Worldclass Education, the communities rallied together to make history. As of November 2004 Polk County was no longer the largest school district in the nation to elect their superintendent. Voters had previously rejected the change 6 times since the 1960’s.
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS BETWEEN MUNICIPALITIES IN POLK COUNTY – The walls between our Polk County cities began to come down. We worked together to improve many things on a countywide basis. The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, after adopting this strategy, started a countywide Chamber Consortium that directly led to the creation of Citizens for Quality Education and the successful voter referendum for a selected school superintendent.
POLK VISION – Establishing a County-wide Vision was one of our priority strategies. We worked with United Way of Central Florida and others throughout Polk County to make this a reality. Many have said publicly that were it not for the success and broad-based community involvement of Lakeland Vision, there would not be a countywide Vision.
EDUCATION FORUM – EDUCATORS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS COMMITTING TO THE VISION PROCESS – The Education Foundation had a kick-off forum where over 150 people, either educators or concerned citizens joined together to commit to work on education strategies. Those committees continued to work over the years to assist in reaching our education benchmarks, and our graduation rate began rising. Education strategies were entrusted to Polk Vision once they were ready to develop implementation teams.
IMAGE – The Chamber of Commerce and the City Commission created a Joint Image Task Force to make recommendations to the Chamber and the City for ways to improve our image. The Task Force focused on:
- Conveying positives to young professionals
- Portraying Lakeland in the best light to progressive high tech firms
- Pursuing the All American City designation for Lakeland
- Improving the appearance of City entrances from I-4
RACIAL AND ETHNIC HARMONY – Established a Benchmark for Racial/Ethnic Harmony as measured by a biennial survey. An overall index of 1(total harmony) to 4 (total disharmony) is used to evaluate responses. All categories have remained below 2.5, which indicate that there is more harmony than disharmony in racial/ethnic attitudes concerning education, social, health care and jobs. In 2005 an index was added to measure leadership. There are still significant areas of improvement needed to bring harmony to all aspects of the community. The survey has been copyrighted and has been used as a model in other communities such as Saginaw, MI and Wichita, KS.
HOUSING ALLIANCE – This Alliance was established to address the Infrastructure benchmark to eliminate substandard housing. Partners included the City of Lakeland, Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (LCRA), Lakeland Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity, Word Alive Ministries, Keystone Challenge Fund, Polk County Neighborhood Services, NuJak Construction and QB and Associates Construction. A Comprehensive Housing Strategy was funded jointly by the LCRA and the County.
One product of this strategy was a comprehensive windshield survey of substandard and dilapidated housing, within the Metro Lakeland Area; the last time a survey was completed was 10 years prior. The survey results helped to target the City of Lakeland’s Housing Division and Polk County’s Neighborhood Services resources. This further supported the development of the City’s urban housing/infill lot development program taking place within the Parker Street neighborhood. Current work in Parker Street includes many of the partners who had participated with the Comprehensive Housing Strategy, including Keystone Challenge Fund, Florida Leisure Communities and Parker Street Ministries.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION CAMPAIGN – Established a partnership with University of Central Florida’s Office of Diversity Initiatives to work with minorities to build a more inclusive community. Also, a Multicultural Festival has become an annual event designed to bring our diverse community together. In September 2007 the first Diversity Summit was held at USF Lakeland and hosted by Lakeland Vision, USF Lakeland, Polk Community College, City of Lakeland, Polk County School Board, Florida Southern College, and Central Florida Business Diversity Council.
CARDBOARD BOAT CHALLENGE – With the support of Lakeland Clean and Beautiful, the City of Lakeland, local volunteers, and event sponsors Lakeland Vision has established a sold out annual event. Teams work to construct a boat made of cardboard that can survive the challenges of a course on Lake Hollingsworth. Environmental agencies participate by providing information about protecting our natural resources.
OUTDOOR READING ROOM – In partnership with the Junior League of Greater Lakeland and the Verizon Foundation, a supervised space in Munn Park was stocked with reading materials and made available to the public in 2006. This encouraged family literacy and a new use for our public space, as well as invited opportunities for intergenerational connections. The Reading Room was used regularly by McKeel Academy, parents and children, and downtown employees during lunchtime hours.
LISTEN LAKELAND – Produced in cooperation with the City’s Communications Department and Hall Communications, this thirty-minute radio show promotes the positive, and often unique, qualities of Lakeland. The program airs every month on all four Hall radio stations.
POLK HEALTH CARE ALLIANCE – A consortium of approximately 35 health care agencies and service providers from throughout Polk County are working together to develop and implement strategies that lead to the goal of increased access to health care in Polk County for all uninsured and underinsured residents.
VOLUNTEER RESOURCE CENTER – This one-stop volunteer center was supported by USF Lakeland, United Way of Central Florida, and community volunteers. The Center opened its doors in November 2007. Non-profit agencies in Polk County are able to publish their volunteer opportunities online where they can be viewed by volunteers who can satisfy the needs. Also, specialized programs, such as “volunteer management”, will become available to registered organizations.
YOUR CITY/YOUR BUDGET – Lakeland Vision provided citizens with a direct platform to share their ideas relating to the City of Lakeland’s annual budget through the “Your City/Your Budget” online budgeting tool. Information collected was given directly to Lakeland City Commissioners to assist in financial decision making.
THE LAKELAND LEADERSHIP COUNCIL ON SENIORS – this dynamic council of individuals with involvment in a wide array of senior related businesses and community organizations seek to ensure that Lakeland seniors experience a high quality of life in a variety of living situations, are involved in the community and have access to services such as senior centers, health care, continuing education and public transportation. The Council on Seniors meets bi-monthly to continue the focus on quality senior living in Lakeland.
WALK FRIENDLY & BIKE FRIENDLY COMMUNITY DESIGNATIONS – These nationally recognized designations from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and the League of American Bicyclists continue Lakeland towards the citizen’s goal of making our community conducive for walking and biking through a comprehensive, expansive and well-connected network of sidewalks, bike lanes and trails that all integrate safely with roadways.
COMMUNITIES FOR A LIFETIME – Through continued efforts by the Lakeland Leadership Council on Seniors, Lakeland Vision facilitated the recognition of Lakeland as a “Community for a Lifetime” through the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. The Communities for a Lifetime initiative administers programs that help communities create environments that embrace the life experience and valuable contributions of older adults and feature improvements to benefit all residents, youthful and elder alike.