Cedar Riverside NRP

Report date
December 2018

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Building and maintaining collaborative relationships with partner institutions, organizations, and individuals brought guidance and experience to key areas of the project. Our partners, paid and volunteer, provided valuable insight and labor without which the project could not have productively gone forward.

•Community engagement was more effective with culturally competent help from our Task Force of local leaders and Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) professionals.
•Our grasp of the local ECFE landscape was brought into sharper focus with help from partners at the University of Minnesota (U of M) and Minneapolis Public Schools.
•Planning for community forums and soliciting and summarizing parent feedback was accomplished effectively through the efforts of graduate students from the Humphrey Institute at the U of M.
•Early literacy events and our purchases of children’s books benefitted in many ways from the knowledge of children’s author and ECFE educator, Marian Hassan.
•First Children’s Finance brought the weight of their expertise and experience to the editing of our business plan and the building of the financial model for that enterprise.
Persistent outreach to local families from the Somali/East African community to share news of our project, solicit feedback from parents, and engage families in early literacy learning activities kept our project aligned to the ECFE issues that are most important to West Bank families.

We also engaged ECFE educators, local childcare center operators, and staff from Pillsbury United Communities who have experience working with local families. This process was followed to ensure that project outcomes would be grounded in the challenges and experience of our local families and guided by professionals who have provided services to these families.

Key lessons learned

Perhaps the most important lesson learned during this project is that increasing access to effective early childhood education is only possible when you have parents actively involved in their child’s early development. To be successful with any ECFE initiative, it’s necessary to invest appropriate energy and resources into educating parents first, especially when working with communities where parents have not been previously exposed to ECFE and its benefits.

This point came clear to us in the course of our community forums for which we had some difficulty recruiting participants. While we made adjustments along the way, our original plans included a more optimistic forecast for parental participation.

It would therefore seem likely that an ongoing effort to raise parental awareness of ECFE’s benefits and importance is a necessary pre-condition to improving access to ECFE for West Bank families.
Another lesson learned is that it’s very difficult to engage with Friends, Family and Neighbor (FFN) childcare providers on the West Bank. Our attempts to identify these providers and offer them business and technical assistance could be categorized as a failure. Attempts to reach these people through cultural navigators, other local providers, through our Advisory Task Force and by hiring staff from Think Small to assist with recruiting are all strategies that didn’t succeed.

This is the one area of our grant project where we’d hoped to have a greater impact on the quality of care received by local families through the extensive network of FFN providers that are often the service of choice for local parents for reasons of trust, convenience, cultural competence, and affordability.

Reflections on the community innovation process

Collaboration was the element of the innovation process diagram that was most important to completing our project work.

As we discussed above, our collaborations and partnerships with our Advisory Task Force (comprising ECFE educators, neighborhood leaders, parents, and ECFE advocates), Minneapolis Public Schools staff, University of Minnesota students and staff, early childhood author and educator, Marian Hassan, and Brian Coyle Center staff provided important experience and expertise that guided our activities throughout the project.

Progress toward an innovation

We are closer to achieving an innovation when we started the project, yet there is much work remaining.

This is certainly the case when it comes to educating families about the benefits and importance of ECFE. Though we’ve reached several dozen families through forums, early literacy events, and one-on-one conversations, there are many more families that are not aware of those benefits.

Also, we’ve not reached as many FFN providers as we’d like, so our goal to assist FFN’s with technical and business support remains unfinished business.

We are closest to achieving our innovation as it relates to opening a new early learning center on the West Bank. With a solid business plan and financial model in hand, we’re ready to take the next steps with that initiative.

What it will take to reach an innovation?

As we mentioned above, ongoing education and outreach to parents about the benefits and importance of ECFE is badly needed to keep parents engaged in this vital work. This need is keen particularly among more recent arrivals to the US from East Africa who have not previously been exposed to ECFE.

The other steps to bring more high quality ECFE resources to the West Bank would be to provide business and technical support to FFN providers and execute the business plan we developed.

What's next?

The project director (PD)/ author of this grant report and Merrie Benasutti, the primary project partner from the U of M, have had discussions on how to proceed from here. Dave has suggested that Merrie reach out to ECFE advocate and supporter, Art Rolnick, at the U of M’s Humphrey School, to get his reaction to the business plan and financial model for the West Bank Early Childhood Education Center (WBECEC.) Dave is also reaching out to ECFE educator, author, and project partner, Marian Hassan, to discuss strategies to realize the business plan.

With support from Bush Foundation, another Community Innovation project could be planned to seek funding for and launching the West Bank Early Childhood Education Center.

Project partner, Think Small, also remains ready to provide any West Bank provider with 20 hours of individualized consultation, operation and licensing protocol. West Bank providers and families would stand to benefit if someone is able to help Think Small recruit and connect with providers, especially FFNs.

One last thought

Hindsight is 20-20 vision so it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have anticipated the total meltdown of the CRNRP as a viable neighborhood organization. The complete dysfunction of the organization’s leadership certainly extended the time needed to complete this project by at least a year.

If Bush hadn’t stepped in to support the continuation of the project after CRNRP collapsed, the conclusion of the work and all of the reporting for the project would have been lost.

I appreciate that Mandy Ellerton and Wally Osman were so supportive in light of the extraordinary circumstances that nearly derailed the completion of a worthy project.

Also worthy of mention is Propel Nonprofits' willingness to support the unusual circumstance of funding an individual, rather than an organization, to conduct the completion/wrap up of the project.