Coalitions & Family Literacy: Flint & Genesee County's Story
The Flint & Genesee Literacy Network engaged national coalition experts Literacy Powerline in 2014 to conduct a needs assessment and community planning process to strengthen literacy service coordination and improve educational outcomes for local residents.
In February 2015, after a six-month planning process by more than 180 community partners, volunteers and learners at the table, the time had come to "vote" on the initial focus of their newly formed collaborative. The question before the group was simple: "If we consider literacy across the lifespan as a necessary continuum, where should we begin?"
With so much time invested, hopes were high for an unambiguous path forward.
But as with many democratic exercises, this nascent coalition of diverse partners delivered the one result they had feared most – a virtual tie between Adult and Early Childhood Literacy.
The point of planning and prioritizing the community's efforts was to find areas to pool resources in order to scale community impact, not to spread resources too thinly across multiple strategies. Had this intensive process let them down?
It is at this point that many coalitions might fracture with small factions heading off in different directions. But this coalition was different. It was carefully cultivated of diverse community partners. It emphasized trust and mutual respect among all partners at the table. And most importantly, the time spent together over six intensive months created a safe place for partners to come to know, understand and appreciate each other's perspectives and contributions to the work.
Instead of disbanding, this group that had lacked shared purpose just six months prior began to problem solve. What values do each of these priorities represent? Where might there be overlap?
What about a Two-Generation, Family Literacy approach, someone asked? What is that? Community members didn't have experience or many local program examples to draw from. But it seemed to reflect their shared aspiration for children and adults…
To learn more, the Network reached out to NCFL to learn more about family literacy. As a result, a strategic partnership between the community and NCFL was born.
In the summer of 2015, NCFL Family Learning experts and its newly merged community building arm, Literacy Powerline teamed up to:
- Introduce Family Literacy to the nascent coalition with on-site professional development.
- Assist the coalition in launching a pilot Family Literacy program with the full support of the broader community collaborative.
- Provide technical assistance and leadership development to strengthen the community collaboration's infrastructure, as a whole, to pivot from planning to implementation.
Coalitions Incubate & Sustain Family Literacy Programs
As a result of the coalition's problem-solving, it allocated funding to kick off a year-one family literacy pilot with a small grassroots not-for-profit, Christ Enrichment Center in Flint, Michigan.
The pilot not only launched initial family literacy programming but was a test of the strength of the coalition's partnerships.
Danielle Brown, executive director of Christ Enrichment Center, has seen first-hand how such coalition partnerships can expand their ability to support the families they serve.
"Out of the Family Literacy Action Team there has been tremendous relationships that were established and are being sustained," Brown shares. "And therefore, our work with families has really benefited from the ability to leverage new Action Team partnerships."
Stronger Coalitions Mean Increased Resources for Family Literacy
Beyond the initial pilot programming, the collective power of this community coalition brought added value to family literacy programs such as access to new funding and partnerships at national, regional, and local levels.
"We can bring all this information in and build a beautiful quilt of resources together," Danielle continued. "And we can showcase around the world what happens when people come together who are passionate about serving people with excellence."
New partnerships. Trust and mutual respect for differing perspectives. New and better aligned resources. Shared purpose. These are just a few of the powerful and long-lasting impacts of carefully cultivated coalitions.
Discover NCFL Literacy Powerline's community and coalition building services by emailing Josh Cramer or calling 502-584-1133.