ONTARIO – On the second Tuesday of each month, a diverse group of people representing local organizations and agencies meet at Four Rivers Cultural Center to find ways to help the county’s children.
The volunteer group makes up the Malheur Education Service District’s Cradle to Career Partnership program, an informal organization that first began to meet in 2013 to help guide children to success from birth to early adulthood. Local and state government agencies and nonprofits are represented.
The group – usually around 60 people – is an ad hoc organization with no funding.
“We just show up and we often identify projects we want to work together on and so there is a lot of information sharing,” said Kelly Poe, director of the Malheur ESD early learning program.
Poe spearheaded the creation of Cradle to Career and said the meetings provide a way to focus efforts for children. “We look at the system and the community and how kids are being raised and then identify support that is positive. We also look at the challenges we need to work on,” said Poe.
Each meeting focuses on one issue such early childhood health care. Then each representative from a local agency or organization addresses what they can do to address the challenge.
For example, said Poe, the group sponsored a community baby shower, using different agencies to provide items for soon-to-be mothers.
“Everyone at the table has a different program. So, Treasure Valley Community College needs to be thinking about its early childhood education resources. Then we have some Head Start programs that are at the table or infant and early childhood and mental health,” said Poe.
In another example, the group also works to prepare children for kindergarten.
“We put together a lot of opportunities for kids to be ready for kindergarten by focusing on social and emotional development. For children before they go to kindergarten there is a whole menu of parental education opportunities,” said Poe.
The group also combines resources to promote Storytime programs for all incoming kindergarten students across the county. Storytime usually draws more than 300 children to Treasure Valley Community College where they gather in the Meyer McLean Performing Arts Theater where “people read to them,” said Poe.
That program has been in place for 10 years, she said.
“Students who participated in our first year our now ninth-graders,” said Poe.
Poe said the focus on one issue means shared work.
“Overlap is fine. People get a little freaked out about duplication of services but it is OK as long as we are aligned and we know it,” she said.
The “backbone organization” of the group is the education service district, said Poe.
“I think we do a good job of sharing data. We are working hard to connect people,” said Poe.
The group, said Poe, is a platform for agencies and organizations to look beyond their own goals and to “break silos.”
“This is one answer to disjointed services. The group also brings people together specifically for kids and to say, what can we do better together,” said Poe.
She said Cradle to Career isn’t a “one stop shop for solutions.”
“But we are trying to break down silos and open up the community to work better together. What we can do is take people who come to the table and leverage what we have to get the most of what we have,” said Poe.
Poe said the group measures success in a variety of ways.
“Things like kindergarten readiness, graduation rates. Those are pretty good indicators. Another good indicator is foster care numbers. I’d say we are improving. The new work in early childhood development is going to take some a long time. But it is hard to move the dial on something so high level,” said Poe.
Poe said the group is “doing a lot of things right.”
“But do we have an outreach tool to bring new people and programs in? I don’t think so,” she said.
Susan Robinett, executive director of the Malheur Early Childhood Development Center, said the Cradle to Career effort is a key tool in the campaign to help local youth.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to share issues going on in early childhood from birth to the way to graduation and starting college,” said Robinett.
Robinett said the meetings are important.
“If we don’t network in the county there are just too many gaps that occur,” said Robinette. To find out more about the group and how to join, contact Poe at the Malheur ESD office at 541-473-3138.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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