Ryerson, Long aiming for ‘Ready by 21’ plan
by Special to the Banner
Sep 24, 2012 | 1874 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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United Way of Bradley County’s Matt Ryerson and Patrick Long are joining leaders from four other Tennessee communities today to begin discussing building new ways to get their young people “Ready by 21” — ready for college, work and life.

Government, business and nonprofit leaders are gathering today and Tuesday at Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns to discuss how to align policies and practices for young people, as part of the Tennessee Cities Challenge.

The five communities — Nashville, Jackson, Athens, and Bradley and Gibson counties — were chosen for the challenge by the nonprofit Forum for Youth Investment, working in collaboration with the National League of Cities (NLC). The Forum pledged to help the policymakers and practitioners begin implementing a set of strategies called Ready by 21 to develop “a shared and actionable vision for youth” in each community.

“As government spending on social programs decreases, the nonprofit sector must find new, innovative strategies that increase our impact without decreasing our budgets,” Long said. “This is the challenge before us.”

He added, “By working with local elected officials, business leaders and service providers, we can build partnerships that allow us to collaborate more effectively and meet these needs.”

Teams from each community — made up of mayors, city managers, county executives, city and county council members, department heads, leaders of local United Ways and the business community — will assess the state of their services for children and youth, then build their capacity to deliver a single, cohesive set of community-wide supports for children and families.

“That’s a dramatic shift from the way most counties and municipalities provide services and programs,” according to Elizabeth Gaines, the Forum’s policy director. “Policymakers face daunting challenges in trying to make lasting change for children and youth, but some of those challenges — like lack of data, redundant initiatives, low-quality programs and insufficient participation by key organizations — can be overcome through innovative approaches.”

“Local officials can help their communities see the ‘big picture’ as they advance holistic approaches for supporting children and youth,” said Clifford M. Johnson, executive director of the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. “Ready by 21 strategies can offer critical guidance to these efforts and help local officials improve the lives of young people throughout Tennessee.”

Ready by 21 helps communities make a measurable difference in the lives of children and youth by improving services, supports and opportunities along the “insulated education pipeline” — the full range of settings where learning and development happens. Aside from the two-day Institute, the Forum will provide an interactive webinar, one-on-one coaching and ongoing technical assistance.

Participants will focus on: forming lasting coalitions of stakeholders; setting bigger goals across a range of developmental areas (social, emotional, cognitive, physical, cultural and civic); using key indicators to track goals more efficiently; making better decisions based on comprehensive data; improving the quality of their programs for children and families; and aligning policies and resources to maximize their impact. NLC, through its Institute for Youth, Education and Families, will provide program support for this work.

Also joining the Institute are directors of the Tennessee Children’s Cabinet and the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.