San Diego Union-Tribune – March 20, 2014

Written by Kevin Crawford

We’re all in this together – North County, South Bay, East County, Downtown and everywhere in between.

Cities and neighborhoods throughout San Diego County are affected by the success, or failure, of our children. We all win when a child succeeds in school, when a neighborhood turns around, when families have good health and workers have solid jobs.

And there’s much more that can be done to help care for our youth’s physical, emotional and social well-being — from cradle to college or career.

United Way, South Bay Community Services and the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation are a few of the organizations throughout the county that are pioneering the concept of “Collective Impact” to help every child, every step of the way to successful adulthood.

Based on its success in other places in the country, this new approach requires partners to use the same research data, agree to benchmarks and goals – and ultimately, work together to find enduring and creative solutions to solve chronic social problems.

Unlike other joint ventures and partnerships, Collective Impact has clearly defined components that must be met, including a centralized infrastructure with a dedicated team to keep the initiative on-task.

There are a lot of community resources available. It’s connecting them together and streamlining efforts around a common goal that’s tough. And unprecedented. And what, together, we’re starting now:

City Heights Partnership for Children: With the highest concentration of youth in the county and 100 percent of families on limited income, City Heights is the ideal starting point to find out what needs to be done and what works in our region. Led by United Way, the partnership — with 80-plus community organizations working together for the first time – is identifying the hurdles children face and using best practices to help them overcome those barriers.

The partnership provided vision screenings for every child — kindergarten through fifth grade (nearly 5,000 students) – resulting in 493 pairs of glasses for those who needed them. A true example of Collective Impact, the project required the teamwork of the schools for coordination, the health provider to conduct the exams, the resources to fund the project, and the internal coordination to oversee referrals, coordinate with parents and make sure the program was successfully completed.

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood: As one of 15 organizations nationwide to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Education based on the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone, South Bay Community Services — and 28 partner organizations, including United Way – are developing “cradle-to-career” programs to promote healthy child development and revitalize the Castle Park neighborhood.

For example, United Way is funding a free bilingual preschool, Escuelita del Futuro. The preschool practices a holistic approach, monitoring cognitive and emotional development, providing home visits and encouraging parent engagement. In less than a year, it has already helped 40 children who may not otherwise have had access to early learning programs, and recently opened a second classroom.

Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership (DEEP): This collaboration of community leaders and organizations, led by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, is committed to improving early grade reading proficiency among children in southeastern San Diego’s Diamond community, which includes Chollas View, Emerald Hills, Lincoln Park, Mountain View, Mount Hope, North Encanto, Oak Park, South Encanto, Valencia Park and Webster.

DEEP is in the initial stages of building a robust support system for principals, parents and teachers to improve reading proficiency for children from kindergarten through third grade. Efforts include a principal leadership network, so Diamond community principals can learn firsthand from their peers at high-performing schools; in-classroom teacher training in the latest reading techniques; and a home reading program for first graders and their parents.

As Seng Vo, grandmother and leader of the Vietnamese Parent-Teacher Association in City Heights, put it: “We have this great saying in Vietnamese: ‘One tree won’t make a hill; with three, we will make a beautiful mountain high.’”

These three partnerships may just be ramping up, but they are already using practices that can be sustained, scaled and customized around the region to help our children succeed and thrive. The benefits will ripple out to the community as a whole.

When we say we need to “Live United,” we mean it.