“We accomplish a lot more by working together.”
More than a dozen agencies in Elkhart County came together Wednesday, May 27, at Bashor Children’s Home in Goshen to kick off the Partnership for Children, a new initiative aimed at reaching at-risk youth.
The partnership includes 12 youth-serving agencies in Elkhart County and is being funded through a $250,000 Key Initiative grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation. The partner agencies include Bashor Children’s Home, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, CAPS, Center for Community Justice, Five Star Life, Lifeline Youth Ministries, Oaklawn, Ryan’s Place, The Crossing, The Post and Tolson Center. Oaklawn is the fiscal agent and managing partner of the project.
The kick-off featured a “ribbon tying” ceremony, a nod to the group’s collaboration and approach to reaching at-risk youth, called wraparound.
The Partnership for Children will positively affect Elkhart County youth in three distinct ways, said Team Leader Ben Strickland. First, staff and volunteers at each agency will receive common training to better equip them to handle behavioral and emotional challenges youth may face. Second, the grant will fund hiring mental health professionals to serve youth at all of the agencies using a wraparound model that surrounds youth and families with formal and informal supports. Third, all of the partner agencies will have better access to mental health expertise, which can be provided in a community-based setting where families are most comfortable.
Leaders from each agency shared what they hope the partnership will achieve.
“The partnership provides training to our Bigs, and that’s where the magic happens, in those one-to-one relationships,” said Brie Feeks, of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Rob Staley, CEO of The Crossing, said his organization is “often challenged with issues we can’t face in house, from behavioral and mental health issues to suicidal behaviors and homelessness. I’m so excited for the resources we’ll have,” he said.
Laurie Nafziger, president and CEO of Oaklawn, said the partnership was a wonderful match for the organization.
“We accomplish a lot more by working together,” she said. “The project aligns perfectly with Oaklawn’s mission of joining with individuals, families and our community on the journey toward health and wholeness.”
There were two stand-out factors that made the partnership an ideal recipient of a Key Initiative grant, said Pete McCown, president of the ECCF. One is that it serves children, and the second is that so many organizations put aside their own differences to pursue a common objective.
About a year ago, the ECCF asked the community to give feedback on the types of projects that should receive funding.
“The first thing we always heard was that our first priority should always be kids,” McCown said. “The other thing was that they wished nonprofits could work together.”
McCown joked that whenever Girl Scouts come to his door selling cookies, he always tells them, “You had me at hello.” “When Don Phillips and Candy Yoder started explaining the project, it so perfectly aligned with what we had heard … the Partnership for Children had us at hello, and we are privileged to be involved,” he said.
Wednesday’s kick-off followed months of behind-the-scenes operational planning. Immediately afterward, the partner agencies held their first training, which focused on the wraparound process and how to refer youth to the program.