Sedalia-Pettis County United Way working on new education initiative

By Nicole Cooke - [email protected]

By Nicole Cooke

[email protected]

Most Pettis County residents recognize Sedalia-Pettis County United Way as an organization that helps fund local agencies. However, it is continuing to work on a relatively new piece of the puzzle — the community impact model.

SPCUW has long operated solely on the community chest model — hosting an annual campaign to fund its partners — but now it is a hybrid, working on both community chest and community impact. Other United Way agencies, such as Columbia, have transitioned to only working on community impact, which SPCUW Executive Director Staci Harrison describes as a way for the community to collaborate on important issues.

“Community impact is looking at the areas of health, education and income to identify solutions to the most critical issues in the community that’s holding us back,” she explained. “Finding ways for our community to continue to collaborate and build upon what we are doing in those three areas.”

United Way Worldwide has encouraged local UW groups to take on the community impact model, and Chris Stewart, CEO of Katy Trail Community Health and chair of the Community Impact Committee, said that was part of the decision to bring it to Pettis County.

“We were getting feedback from the donors about what kind of impact our funded partners were having in our community and about that time (former) Executive Director Linda Kirk had been doing some research on United Way Worldwide’s effort to educate local United Ways about the model, and those two efforts converged about the same time and peaked our interest in exploring it,” she said.

“(It’s important) because I believe, and I think the board does as well, we have a responsibility to affect change, not just to provide what I would call safety net services but also to identify what are the root causes that require a vigorous safety net and have a role in leadership and engagement to solve some of those problems.

“It’s ‘give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ It’s that model.”

Harrison said as a board, and after talking with community members and SPCUW partners, they have decided the target goal is to raise the median income in Pettis County by 10 percent. The first step to achieving that goal is focusing on education with three “building blocks” — getting children kindergarten ready, reading at a third grade reading level, and improving attendance.

“What we’ve really focused on is educating ourselves about what has the biggest impact on economic stability,” Stewart said. “After doing some significant research (the committee) came to the conclusion that education does. We started to recognize that early childhood education, getting kids started off right makes a different in their ability to learn.

“We’ve also identified reading and when we started looking at data around reading, students were learning to read until third and then reading to learn after. … Last piece is attendance; that’s one we’re having a harder time getting our hands wrapped around just because of how it is calculated and keeping kids in school. So what we thought of is to engage our community in these education activities, create community engagement around that for the long-term, then over time we’re expecting to have economic impact. We just want to start with (education).”

Stewart added that SPCUW plans to spend three to five years on the education initiative before moving on to the next step: “It’s not a fast process but it’s one we believe fundamentally changes the way United Way works in the community to create community engagement, folks involved in making some change.”

Harrison and Stewart have met with a few Pettis County school superintendents, with plans to meet with the others in the coming months to discuss UW’s new education initiative. Harrison said they are looking into evidence-based practices that have been implemented nationwide and making those available as options to the community in January, such as programs like Attendance Works or the Dolly Parton Library. This year’s SPCUW campaign goal is $505,696 and includes 3 to 5 percent allocated to community impact efforts.

One of those superintendents is Dr. Matt Teeter in Smithton, who said he is excited to start a partnership between his district and SPCUW.

“The vision is to see prevention or let’s be proactive which is just awesome, and to start with our kids and work through it that way, my heart is in education — when I heard having every third grader at the level they can be, every student kindergarten ready, that got me really excited,” he said.

Teeter said the Smithton District has been working on early childhood education already, and is pleased to see it as a building block of SPCUW. He hopes to continue discussions with Stewart and Harrison about what that looks like and how it can be measured.

“Do we know what that looks like yet? No,” Teeter said. “We’re trying a new program in Smithton, we’re trying to get a hold of youth somehow, some way. We’re building the plane as we’re flying it.

“… I think for us our homework is to find a tool that shows kindergarten readiness — we already have a tool that shows reading level, a tool for attendance, that’s part of their report card for school. We’re working on the first piece to say they are kindergarten ready, help with making sure more of our kids in the Smithton community are kindergarten ready through programs such as Parents as Teachers.”

Harrison said she wanted to remind residents SPCUW is still funding existing partners through its usual grant application process. “Community impact just becomes a part of that,” she said.

“It’s a work in progress, it’s quite large, but that’s where we’re starting,” Harrison said. “We’re learning as we go too because this is new to us, new to the board and me; we want to make sure we set it up for success.”

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.

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