Bester Community of Hope is an initiative of San Mar, focused on prevention with a place-based strategy for positive outcomes for the children and families located in the Bester Elementary School neighborhood in Hagerstown, Maryland.
For the past 132 years, San Mar has served children and families through our residential, foster care and education programs, including the first 44 years of our existence as an orphanage on 355 South Potomac Street in Hagerstown across the street from what is today Locust Point Market. In 2013, during a search for the best strategies to ensure lasting success for the children and families we serve, we learned about several different successful community level change approaches across the country. If there were proven avenues to significantly reduce child abuse and the removal of children from their homes and communities we felt a moral responsibility to balance the important time and energy we spend responding to child maltreatment with the effort to prevent them; even if it meant transitioning our model from our existing campus based environment to supporting neighborhoods.
In January of 2014, Casey Family Programs (Seattle, WA) began a partnership with San Mar to support our shifting priorities towards prevention. A series of visioning meetings with the professional community of Washington County occurred, followed by site visits across the United States to clarify process and understand best practices. An exploration of existing social indicator data led to the shared decision of the geographical catchment area of Bester Elementary in Hagerstown, due to the findings of overlapping social needs along with a wealth of local assets and great people committed to collaboration.
After a series of successful special events to support the school and neighborhood during the 2014-2015 school year, we received a substantial commitment from the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation, San Mar then formally opened Bester Community of Hope as a full-time operation in the Fall of 2015, to utilize lessons learned from programs across the country to make a collective impact. Taking an ecological approach, we targeted the integration of existing service providers to reduce barriers and improve access to concrete supports for children, provide linkages to support families and empower residents and existing social groups to move towards more connected neighborhoods. We believe that it is through an intentional systemic approach across institutions that we can create a network of support for families and increase social connectedness at the neighborhood level.
Bester Community of Hope is one of 14 sites supported nationally by Casey Family Programs to support their broader efforts to safely reduce the number of children placed outside of their home by building “Communities of Hope”.