Children’s Services Council: Initial summer investment | Opinion

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Liza McFadden, who is on the Children’s Services Council, speaks to Tallahassee Chamber conference attendees about how as a community we can better prepare school-aged children for their education Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

Remember the quote from The Little Prince? “All grown-ups were once children… but, only a few of them remember it.” As a member of the Children’s Services Council of Leon County (CSC Leon), I think of this quote frequently, hoping that we, as adults, make the right decisions. Discerning the future value of CSC Leon’s investments today is not a simple undertaking, but rather one of considerable importance.

We recently released our initial investment of $1.56 million for “expedited” programming, funds designed for summer use prior to longer-range investments. In preparation, we hosted numerous public forums, including one for youth. When asked to describe what programs might be most beneficial, the youth’s answers were both emotional and pointed: “We need a maintenance person for our apartment complex because the air-conditioning never works;” “We need mental health services in places that aren’t scary to go to;” “We need tailored career advice and support.” I was not expecting this last issue, and it came from students and parents alike.

One of the most disheartening lessons learned, however, is that our community members most in need simply don’t know where to turn for support.

Judge Tiffany Baker swears-in the members of the Leon County Children’s Service Council during their first meeting Thursday, May 6, 2021.

Our knowledge of community needs was also informed by preliminary data gathered by QQ Research Consultants, the firm completing our statute-required needs assessment. Based on this data, we prioritized mental health, workforce development, access to legal services, and overcoming transportation barriers as immediate needs we could impact this summer.

As we thought long-term, we defined children and youth to include those up to age 24. Afterall, children do not become adults just because they turn 18. In addition, many youth “aging out” of the foster care system become homeless if there is no support system to help them. As a mother of both a 20- and 21-year-old, adult guidance can have an enormous impact as these individuals move forward with life and make career-defining decisions.

Another strategic decision made was to open the summer funding application to all entities, not just traditional nonprofits. This concept invites all great ideas to come forward and is the hallmark of an organization demonstrating it is open to collaboration and innovation. If we truly want to move the needle on child and youth outcomes, then we must leverage our entire community of assets.

As we consider the value of this initial investment and those to come, I am reminded of the words by Maya Angelou, “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”

There are at least three ways we can measure the “good done everywhere.” First, we need to recruit more types of individuals and groups to join our work. Second, we should map out the “good done everywhere” after each investment cycle. Third, we must measure our progress annually by showing the Return on Investment to our investors, the residents of Leon County. This will take rigor and requires a long-term view.

We’ve much to do. While we cannot ensure every apartment complex has working air-conditioning, we can do better at helping families navigate the services already available to them and responding to the needs of the individuals, especially the youth, brave enough to share their hearts.

Perhaps The Little Prince should get the last words as well as the first: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

To wit, while we certainly don’t have all the answers, we are moving forward —not just with data and assessment tools, but with an eye toward listening to the hearts of others.

Liza McFadden

Liza McFadden is a member of the Children’s Services Council of Leon County, and sits on the Program Services and Investment committees. She is a consultant to CEOs and philanthropists, and sits on numerous nonprofit boards, including Florida State Parks Foundation, Reading Partners and Village Square. 

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Children’s Services Council of Leon County: Initial summer investment | Opinion