A periodic message from Community Foundation Board Chair, Paul Salina, and President, Jim Williamson
Sometimes You Pull The Wagon
(August 16, 2010) Remember the old Little Red Wagon? If you were like me you probably had one growing up, or knew some kids who did. They were great fun and never failed to stimulate our childhood imaginations, particularly on those long, hot summer days when there seemed to be “nothing to do!” But, add a Little Red Wagon into the mix, and soon you and your dog were leading the July 4th parade, racing in a pretend Soap Box Derby, or pulling a load of kids, dogs, balls and other childhood paraphernalia just to see how much it could carry.
You may be surprised to learn that we talk about the Little Red Wagon often at the Community Foundation. We find it a useful metaphor for the community leadership role we strive to play in our four towns. The image helps to visualize the choices we can make – beyond grant dollars – on how best to focus our staff and volunteer effort on a special issue we care deeply about. So we ask: Should we pull the Wagon? Push it from behind? Or, just jump in for the ride?
A good example of this is our First Years First early childhood development initiative, begun in 2005. Our goal is to assure that children arrive “Ready to Learn” at their first day of Kindergarten – a daunting task when you think about it. At that time, we decided to “push the wagon” by earmarking up to $1 Million of our discretionary grant budget over the next five to seven years to early childhood programs. Jumping in the wagon with us, Tunxis Community College has helped create the Early Childhood Professional Educators Consortium to enhance curriculum development and training opportunities for area child care providers; the Southington Board of Education has worked with CFGNB to strengthen the town’s Early Childhood Collaborative and launch a new Family Resource Center that now offers pre-K programs in all eight elementary schools; Central CT Literacy Volunteers is now entering the 3rd year of an innovative Family Literacy Program; and we’ve supported the work of the New Britain Early Childhood Collaborative to increase the percentage of young children who have a pre-K early childhood development experience from 38% in 2003 to its current 77% level – right at the CT state average.
It’s been work we’re quite proud of, but we’re still only at the beginning – particularly here in New Britain which by most measures is Connecticut’s “Least Literate City.” So, in the coming months, you’re going to see the Foundation move its efforts more toward the front of the Wagon, as we and many others pull together to launch the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a citywide effort to help all New Britain children not only arrive at Kindergarten “Ready to Learn,” but also to be reading at grade level by the time they enter 3rd Grade. We’ll be joined by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, William C. Graustein Memorial Fund, Consolidated School District of New Britain, CT Center for School Change and many others we hope. The Campaign will officially launch in mid-September, so look for the press reports on it. Also, check back here often, as we plan to have frequent updates on the Campaign’s plans, progress and local partners. Like the Little Red Wagon, there’s lots of room, and we’d love to have you jump in with the rest of us!