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ECF employs the resources of the community and its own resources to work strategically for positive change in the community. One key tool for these strategic directions is the Communityworks Fund, which supports investments in Evanston early childhood care and education, workforce development, and land use.
the communityworks fund
The Communityworks Fund was started in 2004 through a partnership with the Grand Victoria Foundation, which helped ECF grow its own capacity as a community leader. Through that support, ECF developed an impact plan in 2006, Every Child Ready for Kindergarten, Every Youth Ready for Work, which has informed our work.
In 2018, ECF is working to develop the next iteration of an impact plan, while continuing to support the strategies it has for the past decade.
ECF’s commitment to early childhood has helped create additional effective collaborations in Evanston:
In 2012, a family foundation approached ECF with the desire to support early literacy and early childhood. ECF convened early childhood providers and library staff, who together proposed what became ABC Boosters. ABC Boosters employs teens, hired and trained by Youth Job Center (YJC), to work each summer under teacher facilitators with rising kindergarteners to bolster their literacy skills. The program, with continuing support from ECF, is now a collaboration of YJC, Evanston Public Library, District 65, Learning Bridge Early Education Center, Reba Early Learning Center, and the City of Evanston, serving 112 preschool children and providing 30 teens with a meaningful work experience.
Two-generation and Children’s Savings Accounts
From 2013 to 2015, ECF participated in a collaboration with Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Terese Sommer at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research and Ascend at the Aspen Institute to pilot a two-generation initiative, working with parents of young children and their children to improve outcomes for both. At the end of the pilot, the most promising initiative for Evanston was determined to be Children’s Savings Accounts, as described in Evanston Two-Generation Initiative Pilot Report: lessons learned and recommendations moving forward.
In 2017, with the leadership of a community resident and ECF supporter, we created a partnership with the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Chicago, and First Bank & Trust of Evanston to pilot a Children’s Savings Account project. Research indicates that children with as little as $500 in a college savings account are 3 times more likely to attend college and 4 times more likely to graduate. In 2018, the pilot is expanding to some early childhood programs, and ECF is part of a national learning cohort.
Evanston Cradle to Career
ECF’s connection between kindergarten readiness and workforce and adult readiness exposed us to efforts like Strive in Cincinnati, focused on collective impact efforts to improve community systems to ensure that all children and families thrive. This led ECF to be one of the founding members of Evanston Cradle to Career. In 2018, EC2C has increased its focus on supporting families and children to ensure kindergarten readiness.
Research shows clear links between early childhood learning and stress and later readiness and success. Since 2007, we’ve focused much of our Communityworks grantmaking resources and work on the early years, with a particular emphasis on home visiting and family support for low-income families with children aged 0 to 3. Communityworks grants have funded a systemic approach to strengthening support for young families:
- Home visiting through Infant Welfare Society of Evanston and District 65 Family Center
- Training in assessment of family stress through Northern Illinois University’s Center on Family Violence
- Literacy support for children and families through Evanston Public Library and Literacy Works
- Focus on transitioning home visiting children to high-quality early childhood education, including scholarship support to Cherry Preschool
- Creation of a network of home visiting programs and other early childhood providers with learning opportunities
Home visiting has been shown to have a positive impact on family stress and therefore on children’s social emotional development. The programs ECF supported have had positive retention rates and success in connecting parents to other resources. A review of ECF investments in this area can be found in the report The Evanston Community Foundation's Home Visitation Initiative: A Decade of Investing in the Future.
A major workforce issue is connecting youth to careers, particularly those who do not choose four year college as their postsecondary plan. Nearly 30% of Evanston high school graduates do not attend college immediately after high school. And many who do begin college do not complete an associates or bachelor’s degree.
In 2010, ECF commissioned research to learn more about options for youth to connect with “middle-skill” careers, those requiring postsecondary training or education but not a bachelor’s degree. Examples include high tech manufacturing, building trades, and many allied health care occupations. The final report, Meaning and Connection in This Thing called Life: Educating Success-Ready Students recommended:
- Changing the terminology from college-ready to success-ready
- Developing students’ “soft skills”
- Starting to focus on career exploration in middle school or earlier
- Tracking students’ postsecondary paths
- Creating collaborative community efforts to support students in their pursuit of middle skills jobs
Since that report, the landscape in Evanston around these issues has changed. ETHS has substantially expanded its Career and Technical Education offerings; Evanston Cradle to Career includes a team working on postsecondary planning for all; and Evanston WE was founded, focusing on providing mentorship and pathways for students choosing postsecondary paths other than four year college. ECF has been supportive of these efforts, including supporting Evanston WE through a three-year root2fruit grant. In 2018, with the involvement of these organizations, Evanston Mayor Hagerty convened the Mayor's Employer Advisory Council focused on enhancing collaboration between Evanston employers and educators and better connecting students with career opportunities.