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Community Education Workers: A Model That Can Change the World

Posted by sarahcohendoherty

Celebrating Five Years of Partnership

“Count me in.” Imagine the first time you heard those words. Was it in the schoolyard, on a trip with friends, during a business deal? Remember what came along with that statement: potential. Three simple, yet powerful, words transformed what was possible and opened us up to our better selves; those who say yes when opportunity emerges.

In an early meeting of the Ready for Kindergarten Collaborative, which SVP Portland was instrumental in establishing, a mother raised her hand and suggested that what parents in the community needed was more direction to effectively navigate educational efforts. Based on the model of community health workers, the Community Education Worker (CEW) Program was created to teach parents to be their children’s first teachers in their language and expressed in their culture. Additionally, the CEW program helped provide families with access to other services, such as housing and healthcare.

SVP Portland had the chance to be counted in more deeply when we partnered with CEW in 2014 to evaluate their programs and identify opportunities for capacity building and growth. CEW’s belief that it should not be acceptable for children to have different access to early childhood education based on income level, skin color, or immigration or refugee status, aligned well with SVP Portland’s mission and initiatives.

The results: CEW was able to reach more families, conduct more classes, offer additional developmental evaluations and visit more homes—with an increase from 192 families supported in 2015 to 464 families in 2017.

But what started as being “counted in” at the start, turned into being “counted on” during the course of the partnership. In 2017, the promise of CEW was threatened by a series of budget cuts at the County. SVP Portland guided the program through a facilitated process of decision-making with stakeholders aimed at overcoming logistical barriers—helping to identify and validate a new “home” for CEW at the Oregon Community Health Worker Association (ORCHWA). Additionally, our investment went further, bringing our Partners to the table to develop a strategic plan, provide support for grant applications, and provide unrestricted funding for continued evaluation.

“CEW came to SVP and the team to ask for further assistance at a critical time for the collaborative program, despite the potential end of the initial investment,” notes Lead Partner, Cory Mathews. “SVP and the team provided flexibility and resourcefulness in a key moment of need, supporting the program through a potential crisis to ultimately sustain itself and now thrive.” 

That resourcefulness paid off—both literally and figuratively. Since our work with CEW began, SVP Portland has been able to facilitate more than $2.6M in leveraged contributions to the organization including grants from 10 organizations, many of which were multi-year awards to drive long-term impact. Additionally, over the past five years SVP Partners have volunteered close to 750 hours to support CEW, at a conservative value of nearly $75,000, enhancing their ability to grow capacity quickly. 

As CEW Program Director Arika Bridgeman-Bunyoli put it, “With SVP we were able to work together to create a protected space for us to process, learn about each other, and hold each other up. And that is not something that funders typically give space for.”

An additional benefit of our work with the CEW was the connections between this program and other key SVP Community Partners, Latino Network, the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), and the Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA), to connect the community education workers more deeply into their respective communities.

 The five-year culmination of that trust manifested in CEW having the capacity and stability to scale their model, serve more families, and create systemic change in communities. They’re now in a place where they can consistently say to families, “Count us in.” And quality, culturally-specific early-childhood education is now reaching hundreds more children in our community…and counting. 

If you would like to read more about CEW’s process and methodology, check out their Evaluation Report

Looking to get more involved with an SVP Community Partner? Contact Sarah Cohen-Doherty to discuss the kinds of opportunities that are currently available.

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