Story of Impact: Community Caring Collaborative
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.
How frequently does an idea from a visioning event go to a well-funded reality? Unfortunately, not that often. But at the Community Caring Collaborative (CCC) in Machias, that’s exactly what happened. CCC, a collaborative that works to improve the lives of families and vulnerable populations in Washington County, created the Family Futures Downeast program as result of “imagining what could be, instead of what is,” said Co-Director Marjorie Weathers.
Creating Space for Creativity
The idea for this project began at the CCC’s Visioning Day in 2011 where the staff and partner agencies began to identify the many barriers that people living in poverty, especially those with young children, face when accessing higher education.
Families in Washington County face tough odds that prevent them from finding upward economic mobility:
- Over 31% of children in the county live in poverty.
- The county’s unemployment rate of 8.8% is well above the state average of 5.7%.
- Only 28.5% of adults 25 or older hold a college degree, compared to 37.5% of Mainers overall.
More importantly, though, CCC’s partners were given the freedom to think creatively about the solutions.
An Innovative Model
Family Futures Downeast began as a way to move those solutions forward. In partnership with the University of Maine Machias and the Washington County Community College, CCC was able to secure grant funding from the Great Bay Foundation to develop a program concept, build a network of support and eventually move the project from an idea to a reality.
Their solution was a brand-new education model designed to help high risk families by making it easier for parents to take college courses. The goal is to empower families impacted by poverty and other challenges by giving them pathways to better career opportunities and by offering supports that increase self-confidence and success. After identifying the kinds of barriers parents face for achieving post-secondary and career success, project partners began constructing a program that would best support the parents’ and children’s needs. CCC and their partners were challenged to find innovative strategies to help parents return to school and gain life and work skills that would change outcomes for themselves and their children. The group determined that they needed to provide financial supports and social supports to remove the many barriers that often derail parents’ success in a post-secondary setting.
Family Futures Downeast is a model of two-generational programming that benefits both the parents and their children. Parents will take part in a college-level program, through which they earn 15 college credits over the course of one year. The topics include family resource management, human and child development, advocacy skills and more. Children will be enrolled in high quality, on-site early educational programs offered by Child and Family Opportunities, a strategy designed to give them the best possible start. Participants will benefit from comprehensive support for their financial, academic, and social needs, in what is known as a “wraparound” approach. Additionally, participants will take part in five workshops that offer intensive learning opportunities that complement the core curriculum and will cover topics such as financial literacy, health and nutrition, or workplace skills.
From Vision to Impact
Without the support of Family Futures Downeast, a program like this would be unattainable for many families. The estimated cost for a family is between $10,000 and $12,000 including tuition, transportation, and childcare. The CCC was persistent in seeking funding and in September 2015 was selected by the White House Rural Council as a Rural IMPACT Demonstration site and will receive technical assistance and other benefits. The CCC is one of 10 sites selected nationally, and the only site in Maine. With that designation came a $100,000 co-investment from the John T. Gorman Foundation, which will allow the collaborative to hire a director and move forward with critical start-up activities. It was followed by a matching gift from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The program will launch in June of 2016 and their ambitious goals include:
Creating an educational opportunity to benefit the community as a whole by offering a comprehensive, whole-family framework to address poverty. Students who earn a bachelor’s degree can increase individual earnings by $22,000, easing families’ financial burdens and strengthening the Washington County economy.
- Simultaneously impacting children’s lives by giving them access to high quality early childhood education. This access is proven to increase cognitive test scores, making it more likely they’ll complete more years of education, and increase the likelihood they will have higher academic achievement in reading and math. Every dollar invested into early childhood education results in a $7 return, providing long-term financial benefits.
- Making Family Futures Downeast replicable, so someday it could be a model for rural communities nationwide.
The ability of children to succeed in the future is largely dependent on the ability of their parents to succeed today. CCC Co-Director Marjorie Withers said, “Once parents complete the courses, they will know that higher education is possible for them and will be empowered to continue their education even further.” The experience will also increase parents’ self-esteem, broaden their life choices, and inspire them to finish their schooling in a direction that has job opportunities. The CCC also plans to offer technical assistance, conduct research about the project’s outcomes, and explore ways of sharing the Family Futures Downeast model in other rural areas.
The Family Futures Downeast project is an opportunity to change a struggling, rural area for the better. And now it is also a nationally recognized common sense approach to ending generational poverty by improving the lives of kids and their families concurrently. “Partners throughout Washington County and beyond have a deep commitment to the success of Family Futures Downeast, with perhaps the deepest commitment coming from parents themselves whose voices, strengths, and aspirations are at the heart of the program” said Charley Martin-Berry, CCC co-director. The CCC is already hearing from families who can’t wait for the project to get started.
 National Dropout Prevention Center/Network 2012 – http://www.idra.org/Quality_Early_Education/Semillitas_project/Benefits_of_Early_Childhood_Education/