When Dan Jurman took his first drive through run-down neighborhoods around the University of South Florida, he saw challenges, but nothing his life experiences hadn't prepared him to handle.
Jurman had just flown to Tampa from Lancaster, Pa., to apply for the executive director job at the University Area Community Development Corp.
The nonprofit has been working for decades to instill some hope in an area many consider hopeless.
But Jurman, who grew up poor in a tough Philadelphia suburb, immediately saw possibilities. Though the neighborhood is poverty-stricken, derisively dubbed "Suitcase City" for its large transient population, it is surrounded by bedrock institutions unlikely to go away: the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and Florida Hospital, to name a few.
And just a few miles northeast of the dreary duplex apartments and litter-strewn roads are the upper-class neighborhoods of New Tampa.
"I didn't think the neighborhood was as bad as it could have been, but certainly there were issues there," Jurman said. "There's just this huge disconnect between all this prosperity and opportunity and this pocket of poverty."
Though Jurman is described by friends as passionate and energetic, he knew he needed help to battle poverty this entrenched. As soon as he got the executive director's job, Jurman started looking for collaborators in his war on poverty.
"The first thing we started with was how do you make this digestible and look at the things that are really happening here?" Jurman said. "And then the next thing was how do we build a coalition to get that done?"
When Jurman took
that first ride around the neighborhood, he was able to assess the problems through the dispassionate eyes of experience. As chief operating officer and director of development for Southeast Lancaster Health Services, Jurman worked to provide health care in a neighborhood with problems similar to the USF area's.
But years before Lancaster, before he went back to college, graduated and started a family, Jurman was born to a single teenage mom.
He was raised in a succession of rat- and roach-infested apartments and houses. Jurman's stepfather was a substance abuser, and the family was always a half-step from homelessness. By Jurman's count, they moved 22 times.
"It was never a stable or calm household, and that led to all kinds of financial problems," he recalled. "Ultimately, my stepfather ended up abandoning my mom and I and my two sisters."
His stepfather's departure left the family homeless. For six months, they slept on friends' and relatives' couches until they wore out their welcome. One family member let them live in a backyard camper for three months.
Jurman's mom went on welfare, and the family moved into another fleabag apartment. Garbage piled up, and the slumlord owner wouldn't fix anything unless code enforcement fined him.
Jurman says in
a way, he was lucky. The family, though desperate, lived in the tiny Philadelphia suburb of Clayton, N.J. The elementary and high schools were a mile or so away, giving him easy access to after-school programs that kept him off the streets and out of trouble. He got his first summer job through a program for disadvantaged children.
A cousin of Jurman's was not so lucky. He lived in a nearby town that was larger and where he had to take a bus to school. The cousin got caught up in drugs and was severely beaten in adeal gone bad. He's never been the same, Jurman said.
"The only difference between he and I was that there were programs for me," he said. "There were things I could engage in that were not trouble."
Jurman won a Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship to Rutgers University, but he dropped out after a semester. Part of it was culture shock: He was a poor kid from the mean streets thrust into an academic setting with kids "whose dads taught them how to tie a tie."
But Jurman said he also felt guilty that fate had plucked him out of a miserable existence his mom and sisters still endured. So he dropped out and worked construction for four years before going to community college, then on to university, where he earned bachelor and master's degrees.
What his childhood
experience gave Jurman was a holistic theory of how to combat poverty. Programs to help poor people don't work, he believes, because they are disjointed and ill-designed. For impoverished people already moving from one crisis to the next, the bureaucratic maze they follow seeking aid is another complication that makes life harder.
"On the front side of receiving services, what I saw was no coordination," Jurman said. "There was nobody figuring out what we needed to become self-sufficient. It was, 'You need this thing and I provide it and that's all I'll do.' "
Pulling all the pieces together takes collaboration, which colleagues say is one of Jurman's strong suits. It showed when he was in Lancaster, leading a $6.75 million capital campaign to renovate the non-profit's health care center and build another one.
It took two years, but the campaign exceeded its goal by $250,000. Nicole Specht, who worked under Jurman in Lancaster, called the $7 million raised "huge" compared to previous campaigns in the city of 55,000.
"It took a lot of building community relations, government relations, donor relations, and Dan was excellent at all those," Specht said.
The belief in collaboration is what brought Jurman to Tampa. What he liked about the University Area Community Development Corp. was its creation from the merger of eight different groups. The nonprofit agency has obtained tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grants for infrastructure, education and law enforcement improvements.
"It's got a tight geographic focus but a broad mission, which says that it can be open to collaboration to get its mission done," he said. "It doesn't have to be the only game in town."
The development corporation board agreed with Jurman's philosophy that nonprofits should collaborate instead of compete. Don Grantham, pastor of University Baptist Church for 28 years, said Jurman impressed the board with his zeal for fighting poverty.
"His passion is contagious," Grantham said. "There's a genuineness there that I would say exceeds his professionalism."
In July, Jurman
convened the first University Area nonprofit summit. About 120 representatives from more than 70 nonprofits and businesses showed up.
Jurman laid out the neighborhood's statistics on crime, health, housing and education. Then, after several hours of "speed-dating" so attendees could get to know one another, Jurman presented them with a 20-page blueprint for transforming the neighborhood.
Under the plan, the nonprofits would be like "specialists who do what they do best and refer to each other for things they don't do well instead of trying to steal each other's grant money or go after each other's funders."
Jurman's goal was to sign up 12 partners to work out the plan. Instead, he got 39. Now the number of participants has grown to 65 nonprofits and businesses.
A 17-member health and nutrition subcommittee decided to stop holding separate health fairs. Instead they would combine to have fewer, comprehensive fairs at easy-to-get-to locations. Families who attended the fairs would be linked to doctors and clinics.
"If you've got high blood pressure, we're also going to connect you to a service provider who will see you and you get an appointment," Jurman said. "It's not just, 'This is the bad news. Good luck.' "
Jurman also wants to build safe, affordable housing so once families are stabilized they'll stay in the area. The goal is a core of homeowners with a stake in the community.
Gene Marshall, the development corporation's board chairman, agrees with Jurman that housing is critical in reversing the neighborhood's fortunes. A former senior vice president at JP Morgan Chase Bank, Marshall says banks are encouraged under the federal Community Reinvestment Act to loan money for housing in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
"We intend to go to them and encourage them to spend some of that CRA money in their community," Marshall said. "And we're going to partner with the county, which has vacant land, and also upgrade some of the public housing."
In the short-term, Jurman has planned a "Paint the Town" on Jan. 19. The agency's partners will paint a few houses using donated money, paint and brushes. PNC Bank is donating $10,000 to the effort. Rebuild Tampa Bay, a nonprofit, is loaning the agency brushes, buckets and ladders.
"You bring people together, smart people, good people, and they have a great idea," Jurman said. "And if they kept that idea to themselves, nothing would get done."
PROFILE: UNIVERSITY AREA COMMUNITY
Black, 40 percent; Hispanic, 38 percent; White, non-Hispanic, 21 percent.
Population under 18: 27 percent, compared to 21 percent in Florida, and 24 percent nationally.
Females 18-24: 19 percent, compared to 3 percent in Florida and 4 percent nationally.
Occupied units, 77 percent.
Owner occupied, 9 percent; rented, 85 percent.
79 percent of violent crimes in unincorporated Hillsborough County occur in the University area community.
Crime rate for the University area community is 10,285 per 100,000 population, 25 times the national average.
Sources: University Area Community Development Corp.; FBI crime statistics, 2010