Community is key for Milwaukee’s littlest learners
2017 On the Table MKE Focus: Creating systemic change through quality early childhood education.
2018 On the Table MKE Goal: “Keeping people involved by offering immediate action opportunities as they leave the table.”
“Personal” and “purposeful” describes the breakfast gatherings Next Door hosted at its 29th Street and Capitol Drive locations on Oct. 17, 2017. For the ice breaker question, all 80 attendees were asked to name their favorite childhood book. At the end of the gathering, attendees wrote a personal action item – vowing to write to legislators or to volunteer with an area nonprofit – on a notecard that Next Door mailed to them one month later.
“Learning is not just academic. There’s an emotional piece to it as well,” explained Cristina Crogan, Next Door’s vice president of development and communications. “Asking people about their favorite childhood book taps into our mission and created positive energy for the day’s conversation.”
Between those two moments of personal reflection, Next Door staff facilitated discussions about how early childhood education impacts children and families living in poverty and positively affects long-term change across Milwaukee. The nearly 2,000 children enrolled at Next Door come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Next Door partners with their families to focus on achieving economic stability through education, connecting them to resources for family success.
That’s why including parents in the conversation was essential. Next Door arranged the tables to allow for a mix of perspectives, welcoming community leaders, early childhood education experts from area universities, donors, volunteers, staff and parents of Next Door students.
“The conversations were an opportunity for parents to share their personal experiences, bringing to life the realities facing our children and families,” Crogan said.
Next Door staff planned three smaller events for guests who were unable to attend Oct. 17. The main message across all four events was clear – early intervention for children living in poverty extends deep into the community and family history.
“If you look at early childhood, then you have to consider issues such as the mom’s health, even back to her pregnancies,” Crogan explained. “Do mom and dad have stable jobs and a place to live? Do the kids have a safe place to play? There’s not one answer or one solution. That truth ties in very well to the Next Door and Greater Milwaukee Foundation missions.”
Crogan says Next Door’s planning team hopes to strike the perfect balance between conversation and action on Oct. 9, 2018. They plan to offer two to three “ready-made” volunteer opportunities to participants as they leave the table. Next Door will also be available beyond that day to share evidence-based early childhood education presentations to the businesses and nonprofits where its On the Table guests work and volunteer.