It may take a village to raise a child, but in the urban community of Brownsville, Brooklyn, the proverbial adage is taken to a whole new level through United for Brownsville’s multi-generational approach to improving the literacy and social-emotional development of young children and their families.
United for Brownsville (UB) is a collective impact initiative that unites families and service providers around the shared goal of improving the community’s early childhood system. With a mission to improve outcomes for the 3,500 children under the age of three living in Brownsville, UB’s strength-based approach celebrates the vibrancy of the community, the diversity of its families, and fosters pride-in-place where people live and learn.
A collaborative of families and local service providers, with SCO Family of Services and Community Solutions as its backbone, UB was founded on the belief that parents and service providers are experts in their fields, bringing unique strengths and experiences to their parenting and professional lives. Through collaboration and recognition of each other’s contributions, families and providers work in tandem to strengthen services, networks, and outcomes.
According to Ashanti, a United for Brownsville Family Advisory Board Member, “UB is not like any other community organization. The residents are completely involved and have a say about shaping the narrative of Brownsville. It is a real team effort.”
UB’s family-first approach to innovation recognizes that improving outcomes for children requires making space for families at the planning and decision-making tables. A Family Advisory Board of mothers, fathers, and grandparents works hand-in-hand with a Provider Action Team of education, health, and social services providers to jointly plan and execute projects that celebrate and strengthen the community. A non-voting Leadership Council of executives from agencies, nonprofits, and businesses at the forefront of early childhood development in New York City acts as an advisory group.
This distinguishes UB from other collective impact initiatives and many other community development efforts more broadly, which traditionally convene institutions to solve entrenched social issues while excluding local residents who experience those issues firsthand. This approach is a response to a call for a more participatory strategy to improve local systems that have too often elevated the expertise and priorities of paid professionals and the academy over the perspectives and wisdom of local families.
This fall, UB will launch Discover Together Brownsville, a community-wide initiative spearheaded by UB’s Family Advisory Board and Provider Action Team in partnership with the Yale Child Study Center-Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience. Each interlinked project has been designed to align services around the strengths and experiences of local families and the places they frequent. Moreover, each project works together toward building a neighborhood that seamlessly supports children’s language and social-emotional development. Central to the partnership is the Family Co-Op, inspired by the Collaborative’s work in Grundy County, TN.
The Family Co-Op is a multi-generational program for young children and their caregivers that brings free, fun, and education-enriching weekend programming to underutilized spaces in Brownsville. The Family Co-Op is designed to promote literacy, foster resilience, and reduce the isolation reported by many parents of young children. The Co-op also hopes to counteract negative narratives by starting with the question “what would you like to celebrate about Brownsville?”
Reflecting UB’s participatory approach, Family Advisory Board and Provider Action Team members have been closely involved with Scholastic in developing all aspects of the Family Co-Op, from curriculum development, to book list selection, to identifying local field trip sites. Additionally, two Family Advisory Board members have been selected to serve as Community Ambassadors, extending the work of the Co-Op to reach further into the community, and helping connect Co-Op families with community-based resources.
Starting in September 2019, the Family Co-Op will provide young children and their caregivers with 2-hour sessions each Saturday, filling a void of weekend programming for families in the neighborhood. Participants will engage in reading, singing, games, and field trips as part of a place-based curriculum.
The Family Co-Op will be located at SCO’s Morris Koppelman Early Childhood Education Center, the Gregory Jackson Center, and Riverdale Avenue Community School under the guidance of a lead teacher, teaching assistants, and community ambassadors. Each site will host up to 15 children and their caregivers. Family Advisory Board members have been instrumental in developing objectives for the Family Co-Op to ensure the program is aligned with local stakeholder aspirations for our work. Community objectives for the Family Co-Op include that:
- Opportunities for children in Brownsville are comparable to those in other neighborhoods
- Families report improved interactions with their children
- Families feel respected by the service providers they interact with
We will continue to share updates on this important work and its impact on our community.
Image courtesy of United for Brownsville