Who’s Hungry?

Did you know that nearly one in ten Minnesotans live in food insecure homes (Second Harvest, 2015)? That means every single member of the Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM) knows someone; whether it be a cousin, a neighbor, or a friend who lives with food insecurities. We know that hunger adversely affects our communities in many ways from an increased burden on our health care system to ill equipped work force. But how does hunger affect the education gap?
Personally, I could write and tell you all about hunger and the negative correlations in education, but the writer Steve Holt at Take Part wrote a wonderful article on the subject that provides insight into this issue and its impacts. To read the full article find the link below:
http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/09/11/going-back-school-hungry

Children’s Health Watch put together an easy to read fact sheet that provides a very straight forward view of the issue. This approach is appealing to me as it gives the reader the facts even if it’s unpleasant. To read the full report find the link below:
http://www.childrenshealthwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/toohungrytolearn_report.pdf

The Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM) has focused their efforts on tackling the achievement gap in the Minneapolis area. So how are we doing it? One of our major programs is called Backpack Buddies. Founded in 2008, Backpack Buddies set out to reduce the effects of hunger by providing easy to prepare food to cover the needs of children residing in food insecure homes. Currently, the Backpack Buddies project sends out 800 backpacks per week across three different schools. That ends up being 15,000 pounds of food per month. The number are staggering. The even crazier thing is there is always more to be done.

To get more involved Junior League members can sign up for an unpacking/packing shift or donate to the Annual Fund. Community members can get involved by donating non-perishable food items to a local food shelf or signing up for a volunteer shift at Second Harvest or similar non-profits.

A day in the Life of a Between the Lines committee member

Frozen?  What’s that about?  Would a second-grade girl like the story?”  The innocuous question revealed a wealth of information about the woman standing before me.  For starters, she must be pretty isolated not to know about the highest grossing animated film of all time.  Second, she’s been outta the loop for quite a while: Disney introduced Anna and Elsa back in 2013.  The most important takeaway, however, is that she cares about whether or not a young girl would enjoy the story.

Over the next couple of hours, I record women as they read — everything from The Babysitters Club to Love You Forever — into a recording device.  Before starting, each woman opens with a personal message about how she misses and loves the recipient of the book: “enjoy the story, I miss you,” “hope to see you soon,” and “momma thinks of you every day.”
The last woman I record thanks me for spending a Saturday with her, and she praises the volunteers I’m working with, “it it’s so, so nice what the Between the Lines people do for Shakopee.”

Between the Lines is a volunteer-driven committee run by the Junior League of Minneapolis.  The mission of Between the Lines is to promote literacy and help incarcerated mothers//caretakers connect with their children.

Want behind the scenes information about the committee?  Four times a year, members bring books, tape recorders, and stationary to the Shakopee Correctional Facility.  The committee helps mothers do three things: 1) select an age appropriate book for their child 2) create a recording of the mother reading out loud, and 3) write a short note to their child.  A couple weeks later, at a ‘wrap party,’ Between the Lines members package and send the books, recordings, and personal letters to the children of participating mothers.

Between the Lines was established in 2010, and the organization has helped nearly 700* children connect with an incarcerated caregiver through reading.  To get involved or learn more about the committee, please contact beteweenthelines@jlminneapolis.org.

Post contributed by Jennifer Prod

What is Advocacy?

This is after all an Advocacy blog? Let’s take a step back to make sure we’re on the same page.

Advocacy is the act of pleading for, supporting, or making recommendations to influence change. People tend to associate advocacy with lobbying or politics – and it can be – but individuals can advocate for themselves or others too. Can you remember a time when you  spoke up for someone who wasn’t present or defended a friend? Advocacy just means “speaking up” and giving voice to our passions and principles.

The JLM Advocacy committee is working to define advocacy for its membership, engage members in a non-partisan way, and educate membership on the issues surrounding the achievement gap. It’s important that we raise our collective voice in favor of programs and policies which support our vision of decreasing the achievement gap.

WAYS TO ADVOCATE                                                                                                            

  • Creating public awareness through education – sharing data and stories to persuade
  • Blogging
  • Communicating with your elected officials and encouraging others to do the same
  • Writing a letter to the editor

TOOLS TO GET YOUR MESSAGE OUT

  • Social media
  • Promotional materials
  • Letters to the editor
  • Opinion Editorials

Attend the Advocacy event “Coffee & Conversation with Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff” on Saturday, March 21st from 9:00am-12:00pm to take a deeper dive into the world of advocacy, understand how you can become civically engaged and hear from  Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff on her journey and current priorities. See the JLM website for more information and registration.

Additionally, please post comments on the articles and links you see. Nothing educates people more than a great conversation!

Post contributed by Kristy Barnett.

2015 Children and Issues Briefing

The Children and Issues Briefing is an annual event preceding the legislative session.  Key leaders and experts from across the state inform and engage participants in discussion on policy to improve outcomes for children in Minnesota.  This year’s event featured speakers from Governor Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet and a youth panel, among others.

One of our own JLM members was in attendance and shared these key takeaways :

  • Early Childhood is a priority for legislatures and policy.  Four years ago Early Childhood funding was nonexistent and the proposal for this year is at $100M.  There is still a need to grow though.
  • In order to make progress, legislators need to focus on outcomes rather than specific programs.  This requires both political sides to find common ground.
  • Children are looking for Equity.  Everyone should have the opportunity to be successful, as all kids have potential.  This was a common comment from experts and children on the panel.
  • One of the most impactful quotes – “It is unacceptable that a whole life can be written in just the first chapter”.  This amps up the importance of intervention early in life.

Videos of that day’s presentations were just release and can be viewed here.  I encourage you to view a few segments and consider how you can get involved.  One presenter commented that letters, emails and visits to the Capitol make a difference.  What resources would you need to send a letter or email?

Feeding Hungry Students: One New Mexico Teacher Making a Difference

The day’s lesson isn’t the first thing on Marvin Callahan’s mind after the first school bell rings. Instead, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, teacher wonders whether his students have eaten. His routine begins by asking each one of his first-grade pupils what her or she ate for breakfast that morning.

“I have kids that come to school every day and they’re hungry,” Callahan said. “They can’t come in here and be at their best.”

Every day, the 20-year veteran teacher spends a chunk of his own salary to feed hungry kids in his classroom. For the kid who came to school on an empty stomach, Callahan either sends the child to the cafeteria or simply walks over to the supply closet behind his desk for some food. Many teachers at Comanche Elementary School use their own cash to buy supplemental food for their hungry students. More than 60 percent of the kids at Comanche qualify for the federal free or reduced-priced lunch program.

Callahan said that the school lunch is the last meal of the day for many students. He began to think about what his kids were facing after Friday’s dismissal bell. So Callahan and the school counselor, Karin Medina, started a backpack program for the Comanche students who need the most help on the weekend. Every Friday, kids from 25 families get meals and two snacks to take home, enough to fight their hunger pangs until Monday arrives.

The Comanche backpack program is not an official nonprofit, nor does it have any outside funding. The program doesn’t even have a name. However, even without a name, it serves as an example of community generosity, which has others aiding it. A local business brings by boxes of food weekly, and a Boy Scout troop has donated money twice this year.

Teachers feeding their students isn’t uncommon in our nation’s schools. In fact, 73 percent of teachers have hungry students in their classes, according to a report issued in 2013 by the advocacy group No Kid Hungry.

(Taken from a collection of articles and interviews from the fall of 2014. Google Marvin Callahan for more information.)

Post contributed by Kristy Barnett.

Take Action: Tips for Contacting Elected Officials

A simple and effective way to voice your opinion on an issue is to contact your elected officials via email, mail or social media.  Individualized communications with a specific request are best as they will likely receive higher priority over a form letter.  Social media also works! In the last half-decade, officials have leveraged social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to gauge their constitutes views and opinions.

In a poll by the Congressional Management Foundation, 64% of the social media managers surveyed think Facebook is a somewhat or very important tool for understanding constituents’ views and opinions. (source)

Which constituent types who leveraged social media are most influential with elected officials?

  • 77%: multiple constituents commenting within a group
  • 75%: leaders of a group or organization
  • 69%: a single constituent self-identifying with a group
  • 58%: a single constituent on his or her own

Ready to start?  

Below is a call-to action from Think Small, a MinneMinds coalition member, to educate local elected officials on the importance of early learning investments.  A form letter is provided that will also enable you to revise the pre-populated content and then mail or email to your officials.

From Think Small – Leaders in Early Learning: Speak Out For Children

Additional Resources

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

USA.gov

How Children Succeed Praise

A couple weeks ago Renee Evansted blogged on a wonderful book, How Children Succeed. This week, I would like to take the opportunity to tag onto Renee’s post and point out a few of the ways that the Junior League of Minneapolis is furthering some of the ideals laid out in the book, and also point out a few areas where we have the opportunity to get involved. You can read the previous blog post for more context on the book, and it also linked to an article that summarizes the book:

http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21569680-new-research-how-close-achievement-gap-stay-focused

  • One of the things that is important for children to be able to succeed as adults is self-control. The Economist article (above) summarizes, “children who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still and rebound from disappointments. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for regulating thoughts and mediating behaviour.” This characteristic begins in very early childhood. The JLM makes a significant difference in this space with the Crisis Nursery, founded by the JLM and community partners. The Crisis Nursery provides a safe place for the children of distressed, and oftentimes disadvantaged, families.
  • The H.O.M.E.S. project, a newer one for JLM, focuses on equipping parents with ways to continue Math, Engineering and Science actives through hands-on projects in their homes. One charter school that the book spends a lot of time on, KIPP, is having a lot of success in closing the achievement gap with its students. KIPP cites “Choice & Commitment” as one of their five pilars, or operating principles. A key componenet of this pillar is commitment and involvement from parents. The H.O.M.E.S. project focuses on exactly that.
  • As JLM members, you know and have participated in numerous other ways the league makes a difference toward our chosen issue. However, this book, and the KIPP model in particular, illustrate additional things that are having a profound impact on children’s success. I’ll outline a few of them as food for thought in the new year.  How can the JLM, or you as an individual, advocate and work toward closing the achievement gap by focusing on some of these things:
    • High Expectations – KIPP has high expectations for academic achievement and accepts no excuses based on a student’s background.  Who are the right partners for the league and what are the right projects in this space, if any?
    • More Time – KIPP has an extended school day, week and year, allowing more time for learning. How does the JLM provide this outside the classroom, or how could/should we?
    • Choice and Commitment – I mentioned this one above but it’s worth thinking about since it has been well researched that higher parental involvement and higher academic achievement are correlated. Parental involvement can be thought about in the context of the league or also personally for those who have children, nieces, nephews, etc. The involvement and commitment piece for KIPP also extends to teachers and students. Are there things we can do in the league to driver ownership and commitment within one or many of these groups?

I will echo Renee’s recommendation – How Children Succeed  is a worthwhile read, and it’s inspiring to recognize that the JLM is already involved in many of the critical components that put children on the path to success.

Post contributed by Kacie DeWolf.