After helping inject $40 million of investment into south side neighborhoods, Charlotte John-Gomez, executive director of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Inc., will leave the organization at the end of May to pursue community development projects at the state level.
John-Gomez, who has steered LBWN’s neighborhood revitalization efforts for the past 16 years, has been appointed director of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Milwaukee Office of Community Planning and Development.
In her new capacity, she will partner with municipalities and Wisconsin residents who rely on HUD resources to “really build strong communities across the state,” she said.
The government agency focuses on both cultivating healthy communities and opening up access to quality affordable homes.
The momentum John-Gomez largely propelled forward in LBWN neighborhoods – Silver City, Burnham Park and Layton Park – will be carried on by LBWN’s director of fund development communications, Will Sebern, who will assume the role of executive director on June 1.
To Sebern, John-Gomez has been a mentor and a leader he credits with positioning LBWN to operate with an asset-based community development model. Through that model, the nonprofit acknowledges its challenges and problems but emphasizes solutions by touting its strengths and leveraging them to mobilize neighborhood residents.
LBWN’s approach to community development appeals to the “sense of optimism” and “positive momentum” the organization has worked to spread throughout its neighborhoods, Sebern said.
The asset-based community development model emerged in 2006, when LBWN was recruited as a lead agency for the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, a move that was a “milestone” for the organization, John-Gomez said. The large-scale effort, backed by the City of Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, aims to transform city neighborhoods into settings where residents are eager to live and work.
“We went from focusing on problems to understanding that we need to build from the strengths of the neighborhood, and that change in perspective has really created even more impact than we could ever have imagined,” John-Gomez said.
Since then, much of the $40 million invested into LBWN neighborhoods has resulted from residents purchasing homes, property renovations, business establishments and redevelopments, streetscape improvements and block projects.
LBWN has helped facilitate those investments through several resident- and business-focused programs, including its Turnkey Renovation Program, which restores vacant bank and city-owned property into livable homes, and its Silver City Business Plan Competition. Last year, business contest winner Our Daily Salt relocated its operations from a basement to a 2,000-square-foot revitalized commercial space at 3519 W. National Ave.
The gamut of people investing in south side neighborhoods is “a testament to the fact that people have a high level of confidence in this neighborhood,” John-Gomez said.
“There really has been so much impact, and the momentum right now is at a point where it’s only going to continue to build,” she added.
In selecting a new leader to continue that momentum, LBWN first looked internally. Its board identified Sebern as a “natural fit” with the “significant role” he has played in the organization, John-Gomez said.
Sebern jumped aboard LBWN in 2011 as community outreach manager and became director of fund development and communications in 2013.
Now, as he takes over the organization, he said his immediate focus is two-fold.
One of his priorities will center on listening to neighbors, business owners and other key neighborhood stakeholders so that they can inform LBWN’s future projects. Much of LBWN’s day-to-day efforts have planted staff members on the ground at the block level to engage neighbors and assist them with projects that ultimately enhance quality of life.
Sebern will also work to maximize collaborations among staff members, neighbors, business owners, city officials and other community partners, adding to the collaborative environment already tangible on Milwaukee’s south side.
“We can have a much greater impact in the neighborhood when we do work collaboratively,” he said.