As we enjoy the holiday season and engage in the inevitable annual reflection, I find myself thankful for agents of positive change in our community. As understanding of increased social issues have been identified—such as the experience of homelessness, or poverty barriers to education—innovative leaders have recognized problems and taken action. In particular, the arena of youth development has seen exciting developments . . .
Tammy Wilson, principal at Discovery Elementary, recognized the absence of books her students could relate to—and the barrier to literacy this creates. Tammy took action by interviewing her families and writing her own children’s book for them, Through My Eyes, where an eleven-year-old must navigate her new country while balancing traditional values. Tammy’s creativity and leadership has also helped fuel the success of both Discovery and Talahi schools receiving a W. Kellog Foundation grant to create a welcoming and differentiated learning environment for all students, especially in vulnerable populations
The Yes Network, led by Jerry Sparby, recognized the amount of unengaged youth lacking the means to attend summer programming. The Yes Network took action by developing an innovative program to deliver food and enrichment programs on-site in neighborhoods, now reaching thousands of otherwise unattended kids each summer.
The Rotary Club of Greater St. Cloud, led by the work of Tim Wensman, recognized that every night this community has more than 125 youth sleeping in cars, alleys, couches—or much worse situations. Tim took action by spending a year researching the issue and developing a response, resulting in the coming launch of Pathways 4 Youth, an opportunity center focused on providing concentrated resources and support for improving lives.
United Way of Central Minnesota has worked with local education leaders and social service providers to recognize that poverty creates significant barriers to education. At several local elementary schools, the free and reduced lunch rate—based on national poverty standards—is over 90%. Even more alarming is the transition rate at some of our schools, with over 50% of the student population changing schools within a single academic year.
Together we’ve taken action to create United Way Neighborhood Resource Centers at Discovery and Lincoln elementary schools, where Community Resource Navigators assist parents in finding stable employment, quality housing, and other needed services. They also work to create bridges between the schools and families that increase two-way communication and foster positive child-centered working relationships. The chief goal is increasing retention rates so these relationships can take root—teachers can count on guiding more of the same students through the year, and students can feel secure and confident in a known environment that allows them to focus on their studies.
Certainly, the exciting innovations in our community this year are just the beginning of the work. And new issues will continue to arise and evolve. As they do, I’ll keep in mind the great capacity for our community to support agents of positive change—and the ability of the motivated to take action for others.
Written By Daniel Larson, Vice President of Community Impact