Last updated: June 10. 2014 8:25PM - 553 Views
By - ncooke@civitasmedia.com

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In an effort to move from a “community chest to a change agent,” Sedalia-Pettis County United Way hosted the first of four community focus groups Tuesday evening at the Fox Theater Event Center, with the first topic focusing on education.

About 20 people attended the focus group, and included members of the SPCUW board, educators from Sedalia School District 200 and State Fair Community College, and representatives from education-based SPCUW member agencies. Those in attendance were asked to answer and discuss a short series of questions, including: What should our community be like? What do you want education in our community to be? What changes need to happen?

“Instead of just giving money away, we are becoming partners with our agencies to define some of the most critical issues in our community and trying to help our agencies and our community as a whole to try to solve some of those, and the root causes of some of those issues,” United Way board member Chris Stewart said during the event introduction.

Over the course of an hour and a half, attendees discussed education issues in Sedalia and Pettis County with those at their table, and what was brought up seemed to stem more from community issues that could improve education, rather than issues with education itself. Issues such as child hunger and motivation for learning were brought up, which prompted a discussion on how to help parents, rather than students, in an effort to “break the cycle.”

A group comprised of JoAnn Martin, Cindy Gerke, Adam Gerke and Sam Gunter discussed how a student’s home life has a huge effect on learning and how that can be remedied by implementing programs to help both student and parent.

“It really takes a community to raise kids,” Martin noted.

Community support was mentioned in one way or another multiple times during the focus group, and that same group offered the idea of creating a parenting education/support group in the area to not only teach parents about raising a child, but to also offer mentor support from parents who have been through a similar struggle.

“I want to read over everything we talked about tonight, but parenting skills stood out,” SPCUW Executive Director Linda Kirk told the Democrat after the event. “There were a lot of topics covered, but it came back to how can we help parents be better parents.”

Another common issue and solution was having early childhood education accessible to all families in Pettis County, with several people noting how important it is to instill a love of learning — and a sense of security — early in a child.

After each focus group, Kirk and other SPCUW officials will compile the information and make a presentation to the board in August.

“From there the board will discuss what specific goals we’ll have for those areas,” Kirk said.

Overall, Kirk said the goal of the focus groups is to better invest their money to help the community. It was also brought up that rather than an agency just helping to fill an unmet need, these conversations could help find the root of the problem.

“United Way wants to be able to make a difference in the community, and we want to invest our dollar wisely,” Kirk said. “We need community conversations in order to know how they feel about education. To get a sense of what that might mean to them and what they might need.”

SPCUW will host three more focus groups this summer: Income Stability, June 17; Safety Net Services, July 8; and Health, July 15. Each event is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Fox Theater Event Center, and refreshments are provided. RSVPs are requested at least four days prior to the event by calling 826-2980 or by emailing spcuwsedalia@gmail.com.

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