CFNLA Director of Marketing and Development, Amanda Felan, sat down with CFNLA Director of Special Initiatives, Carla Burgos, to learn more about the great work of Step Forward and what’s to come in 2022.
Amanda: Carla, being new to Community Foundation, I have spent the past few months learning the ins and outs of CFNLA and its initiatives. Can you help me gain a better understanding of Step Forward and the work happening with the network partners?
Carla: Absolutely! I am happy to walk you through it. What are some questions you have?
Amanda: Well first, what is Step Forward? What does it aim to achieve?
Carla: Step Forward convenes community leaders and uses data to illuminate obstacles faced by children of color and those living in poverty. Step Forward and its partners use evidence-based decision making and collaborative action to make positive changes for North Louisiana children. This type of change can only be achieved through a partnership with the entire community. Step Forward seeks success for every child in North Louisiana with the ultimate goal of all children obtaining a sustainable, living-wage job by age 25.
Amanda: Can you explain how Step Forward works toward achieving that goal?
Carla: Step Forward has three networks: Building Resilience, Building Foundations, and Building Futures. These networks are made up of nonprofits, volunteers, and service providers who are experts in their fields. Through these working partnerships, each network collaborates to achieve the mission of the Step Forward initiative.
Amanda: Can you elaborate on each of the networks’ objectives and activities?
Carla: Building Resilience aims to assist children in Northwest Louisiana in overcoming adversity. Ensuring all children have access to a supportive community and resilience-building opportunities results in improved social, emotional, and academic outcomes, thereby ultimately creating thriving citizens. The network is building a supportive and emotionally intelligent community – including family members, teachers, mentors, neighbors, etc. who provide positive prevention and intervention activities for all children.
Carla: Building Foundations focuses on children from birth to grade 5. Specifically, the network is working to ensure all children meet developmental milestones during that time and are socially, emotionally, and academically proficient. Currently, the network is working to raise awareness about the importance of early brain development and increase enrollment and attendance in quality early education.
Carla: Building Futures focuses on children from grade 5 to young adulthood. The network promotes strategic workforce preparation that matches the needs of local employers to increase employment opportunities for young adults. The network aims to expose students to all careers and workforce training which includes employer-determined skillsets, communication skills, critical thinking, technical knowledge, and problem-solving ability.
Amanda: What is your current focus for Step Forward?
Carla: At the end of 2021, Step Forward hosted the Re-Launch & Re-Invite Combined Network Convening where we shared with network partners our commitment to implementing the StriveTogether Theory of Action model to shift the way systems support children and families in North Louisiana. My focus at this time is working to strengthen relationships with the network partners who are, thankfully, very committed to the goals and process.
Amanda: Tell me more about the StriveTogether Theory of Action model.
Carla: The model provides a roadmap for building the civic infrastructure necessary for systems transformation. Civic infrastructure is the organization of all the components in a community that impact children and families. The StriveTogether Theory of Action identifies four primary components as pillars necessary for civic infrastructure development- shared community vision, evidence-based decision making, collaborative action, and investment and sustainability.
Amanda: Why is that model important to the success of Step Forward?
Carla: The StriveTogether Theory of Action model is a roadmap that helps guide communities as they work to eliminate disparities, so every child and family has the chance to succeed. Step Forward will follow this guiding framework, utilizing its evidence-based tools, as we create an infrastructure that will produce more equitable outcomes.
Amanda: What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2022?
Carla: By the end of 2022, I hope to have results-driven networks that reflect our diverse community and its set of unique needs. I also hope to have more members of the communities in which we are working involved as we review local data and develop each network’s action plan. Equity and transformational change can only occur when children and families are engaged in the process. This year, we will use data, our brilliant network partners, and youth and families to develop solutions to the challenges faced by children of color and those living in poverty.