Aiming high for school-age youth

Success of All Youth is the goal

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing Reporter

Alejandra Ibanez was born at 5:30 p.m. on September 17, 1973, six days into the infamous Chilean coup d'état by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, a watershed event for Chileans.

Without a doubt, it was also a seminal moment for Ibanez, who arrived in the midst of her country's chaos.

"The doctor had to yank me out of my mother before 6 p.m. so he could get home before curfew," she says, smiling.

On this day in March, however, the program officer at the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation was running a tad late, busily making last-minute copies of her Oak Park and River Forest Continuum of Learning action, which is the draft action plan being developed through the Communityworks Success of All Youth initiative.

The committee's strategic document is based on data collected at last year's Community Café in Oak Park, where more than 100 residents from Oak Park and River Forest came together to discuss the youth well-being. In her new role, Ibanez says she inherited reams of community wisdom, and since then has been facilitating a corps of community volunteers. Her working committee is synthesizing the data into a framework with measurable outcomes.

"If our youth are succeeding, then we know that our community is succeeding," Ibanez says. "What I am really doing professionally now is building community," says the former community organizer who for the last six years has resided in Oak Park with her husband and three boys, age 2-6.

Since last summer, Ibanez says she has been assimilating the many nuances and responsibilities of staffing the foundation's neutral convening function and is adapting to her new role. In recent months, bi-weekly, she has been convening the Success of All Youth cohort of parents and community members, plus representatives from all three school districts and key institutional stakeholders, including nonprofits such as Hephzibah Children's Association, The West Cook YMCA, and the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education in their offices at1049 Lake St. All are volunteers, she says.

"In the last 10 to 20 years, community foundations have come full circle," Ibanez says. "We have become key stakeholders in the community who can bring other stakeholders to the table to talk about issues that affect everyone. Because of this new role, as a community foundation we can say, "Hey, districts 90, 97, and 200, parents and nonprofits, let's come together and figure out how we can sustain our communities."

An aspiration for Success of All Youth, she adds, is to foster community engagement in many forms, including working differently, and in a positive way, around issues such as early-age quality education for all children, the achievement gap and resourcing public schools.

"At this stage, we are really focusing on developing measurable outcomes, rather than activities, and always looking at what is working first."

Supporting good work

One potentially tangible outcome to all this, she adds, would be Communityworks providing seed dollars to the Physician's Network, an initiative that is already underway, educating doctors and parents about the benefits of early-age developmental screenings. It is an initiative of the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, she says.

"A Communityworks strategic grant in the form of seed money could allow them to take their effort further," she says, "and it would also demonstrate a systemic approach to how the Success of All Youth initiative is focused on sustaining and helping our communities."

Another concrete example of the initiative at work is how the three school districts in Oak Park and River Forest are being brought together around the table with other stakeholders in the community in their strategic planning process, she adds.

"We see this working document as the framework for sustaining a healthy community where we will see all our youth succeed," Ibanez adds. "Every dollar donated to Communityworks will translate into us being able to provide broader financial support in the form of grant dollars in a very strategic and impactful way."

Reader Comments

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Estela from Chicago  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 6:35 PM

There's so much community work to do. Alejandra is a great example of leadership. The future will rely on today's young people.

Norma Polanco-Boyd from Cleveland, OH  

Posted: May 11th, 2011 11:45 AM

It sounds like amazing work and she seems very dynamic.

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