The responsibility of bringing children from their first years through high school and on to a career path is not one that can be "simply outsourced to teachers, principals or schools." Instead, at all points of contact from a church to a social worker to a youth sports team, a child needs to be nurtured and propelled by the wide community.
That's a philosophy gaining traction across the country and one that is coming now to Oak Park and River Forest through the efforts of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. Next week, the foundation's CommunityWorks initiative will unveil its efforts to foster a "cradle to career" initiative through its Success of All Youth (SAY) efforts.
The public is welcome to attend the first public presentation on Tuesday, April 22, from 8:30 a.m. (until 2 p.m.) at the River Forest Community Center, 8020 Madison St.
One aspect of the local version of this national effort will be the shared focus of measuring both social and emotional success as well as academic accomplishment.
The presentation is an opportunity to join in with more than 50 key SAY stakeholders -- from the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, to people from the public school districts and village leadership in Oak Park and River Forest, non-profit representatives serving youth and families, the business community, and faith based institutions--all of which are either working on, or interested in getting involved with the local collective impact initiative.
"It is happening in Evanston (Evanston Cradle to Career Initiative), in Chicago (Thrive Chicago), and it is also happening in terms of the StriveTogether network, in over 100 cities around the country," says David Pope, former Oak Park village president and co-chair of the CommunityWorks Advisory Board. "This is absolutely a long term process, and the idea is to make a long-term commitment to help foster the inner relationships and supportive structures among all of the various players and groups and individuals, to be able to have this long term commitment, which will result in opportunities for all of our kids."
Last year, to put "collective impact" legs on its Success of All Youth initiative, CommunityWorks initiated a partnership with Cincinnati-based StriveTogether.
"The fundamental underpinnings of the StriveTogether model are to determine the key priority outcomes for our community to help us determine the key priority outcomes that we would like to see for each child in Oak Park and River Forest, then determine a way to evaluate whether we are making progress toward those outcomes," Pope says. Adding the final phase is for StriveTogether to help create those supporting structures with the active engagement of local players.
Another benefit of working with the StriveTogether organization, is the opportunity to leverage the learning of communities whose "cradle to career" initiatives are already underway.
Pope describes the evolving cradle to career landscape in Summit County, Ohio, one of the network partners which has collectively chosen an outcome of striving for every child to achieve at least a 21 ACT test score, the entry point to a post high school college or work career, he says.
"They have been able to look at the data and say, 'well, OK, for kids who did achieve a 21 on the ACT, this is how they were doing in 8th grade in math, here's where they needed to be in fifth grade in reading, and were able to determine if early intervention was necessary, if that sort of help was needed early on," Pope says.
"Collective impact has at its focus that the responsibility of the development of our kids is not something that can be simply outsourced to teachers, principals or schools," Pope said. "But instead, it's the responsibility of all of the players in our communities who come into contact with children every step along the way."
A movement with momentum
Weeks before the public meeting, Dr. Ed Condon, superintendent of District 90 in River Forest, says the River Forest schools want to be part of the larger initiative because of the power that comes with the coordinated efforts of so many formal and informal groups.
"I think this will be a challenge, but I also view it as a distinct opportunity because the concept of it being a tapestry is what will allow it to be an initiative where everyone can come to the table, with respect to their own needs and cultures," says Condon.
Condon believes SAY will succeed because of the tremendous collaborative spirit that is the sister communities of River Forest and Oak Park.
Meanwhile, attending the upcoming public meeting, says Henry Kranz, the foundation's marketing director, will bring clarity as to what has been done by the CommunityWorks Advisory Board and its committees, and will provide opportunities to get involved in a working group or other ways, he says.
Kranz, a long-time Oak Parker, likens this to what happened in Oak Park when "we went through the open housing business."
"There were people who had the same 'lofty goal,' and then got together and made it happen. That is the best example of what we have seen this community do in the past," says Kranz. "I just think we are the right size community; we have the right resources to do it. I think if we can continue to bring people in throughout our efforts, we will begin to see some amazing improvements."
Sophia Lloyd's final push
In her last few weeks as executive director of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Sophia Lloyd has been thinking about the collaborative work the organization has engaged in over the last seven years.
"I came to the foundation in 2007 because the board of directors at the time were saying that 'we believe we have a role we can play that can help in the community in bringing community together,'" says Lloyd, who is leaving her post to become the director of Job and Family Services in Lucas County, Ohio on May 14. "That is what attracted me to the position, and so it is just seeing the reality of what the board saw happen, that I could be a part of that, which has included Success of All Youth (SAY)."
As Lloyd leaves, a new executive director, and a permanent staffer to oversee the convening of the community around the important issues and aspirations of SAY will arrive.
"Getting to this point hasn't been easy, and it has been a long road," Lloyd says. "Some people will remember that we started this by gathering at a community café. But now we are further along than we were four years ago and have been taking incremental steps towards this reality."
Lloyd adds that she recognizes that there is not a single person in these communities who would say they don't want a young person to succeed. "This is not a lofty goal. Our children deserve this."