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Charting a course toward change

Charting a course toward change

Jack Shaw chose ‘one square mile’ to try out his vision for helping families living in poverty.  

Avid sailor Jack Shaw knows the value of marshaling key elements— nature, skill, effort and teamwork—to navigate turbulent waters. And in life, as with sailing, the more prepared you are, the more likely it is that you will prevail.

This spirit, combined with his more than 50 years in management consulting, prepared Shaw for his self-described “second career”—saving the world, one community at a time.

His five decades with global financial and management consulting firm Deloitte taught Shaw how to make organizations work and how to pass that knowledge along to his clients. When he retired, he knew he wasn’t done. He was ready to take his skills and knowledge and use them to make a difference in the world. 

Jack and his wife, Ellen, created the nonprofit El Viento Foundation, using the Spanish word for “the wind” in the name. Later, he formed the Oak View Renewal Partnership, to develop and test a business model for transforming impoverished regions around the globe.

“It was a dream about how to change the world,” Shaw says. “I believe that you change the world one community at a time. I realized I can’t change the world. I can’t change Orange County. But I can help this one community.”

Shaw identified an area in the heart of Huntington Beach called Oak View, where he would employ strategies designed to change permanently the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, crime and hopelessness that had characterized life for generations of its residents. The struggles faced and lessons learned over the past 15 years are chronicled in his book, “One Square Mile: A Journey of Community Empowerment.” 

“The thing with poverty is that there isn’t enough time, resources or money to solve the problem,” he says. “You cannot solve it by throwing money or other resources at it—there will never be enough to change the condition of the impoverished communities in Orange County or the U.S.” 

“You have to leverage the people themselves to take responsibility for their own lives, but you have to give them the tools and the belief that they can change their own condition. We have to do it on a very small scale before it can be adopted on larger scales.” 

“Oak View is a pilot program that I believe is transportable.”

El Viento focuses on empowering children to set them on the right path for success in college and in life. But Shaw sees the most significant need among the neighborhood’s adults. 

“Many adults are illiterate in their own language,” he says. “And this is what I call the ‘lost generation.’ They are making the sacrifice in hope that their children will have better lives, but we have thousands of people between the ages of 18 and 65 who have no hope for themselves.”

The Oak View Renewal Partnership is dedicated to providing this these people with basic skills, as well as a sense of optimism: a faith that their lives can improve. 

Under the leadership of Executive Director Iosefa Alofaituli, volunteers and community partners work directly with neighborhood families  to help them overcome literacy and  social challenges,  and  to help develop job skills, with hopes of eventually achieving citizenship.  

“We need to convince them what their life could be like if they had basic skills,” he says. “We need to instill in them the possibilities of their own lives and that they can have a future.”

A measure of progress is the Community Wellness Index, which tracks five metrics – health, safety, education, employment and housing.  In Oak View, the improvements have been transformative. 

“It hasn’t been easy, and we’re still not completely there, but our results have been significant,” he says. “We need Oak View to reach its highest potential before we can begin spreading the model to other communities.” 

For additional information on the Oak View Renewal Partnership and Shaw’s book, “One Square Mile,” go to www.oak-view.org.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation.

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