This week, we pick up the Bradley Initiative for Church and Community (BICC) story in mid-2007.
The story of BICC seems short, and it is, but the impact of our shared efforts that has been highlighted in this brief series seems to be moving very quickly. However, the magnitude of the outcomes is phenomenal. I will take just a moment to do a small recap and put things in perspective.
At this point (2007), BICC was celebrating its ninth anniversary and nine projects have been developed:
1. The Credit Union was growing with more than 1,000 members (spun off from BICC).
2. Festival of Cultures, initially designed as a one-time event, was discontinued after five events.
3. REACH had just completed two full years of classes (spun off from BICC).
4. Black Fox Community Preschool had been folded into the governor's preschool plan (spun off from BICC).
5. Commission on Racial Equality is conducting diversity trainings.
6. Inspiring Tomorrow's Leaders Today is in full operation.
7. Bridging the Gap mentoring program is recruiting and training mentors.
8. The Scholarship Program is providing students with tuition scholarships to Cleveland State Community College and Lee University.
9. Bradley Savings Initiative has just received an additional $50,000 in grants and contributions to match participants' savings, and entered into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and Family Resource Agency for BICC to provide financial literacy training to their constituents.
All of these outcomes are concrete evidence of what church and community can do when it comes together with a shared vision. Praise God!
Getting back to the story, in mid-2007 there were major concerns about education funding in our community when attention was drawn to some troubling statistics that had been released. For example, Bradley County schools ranked among the lowest in the state for per pupil funding. Through past work in education, BICC had gained respect from community members and leaders which allowed us to organize and moderate a community forum to dialogue about how education funding is distributed.
At the Forum in April 2007, parents and concerned citizens presented their questions to a panel of our state and local school administrators who responded. This was yet another way for the community's voice to be heard.
Following the forum, there was strong interest in Cleveland and Bradley County to look at the future of education in light of work force development. In response, BICC organized an Education Summit In September 2007. National, state and local leaders representing education, work force and economic development, health care, religion, government and business/industry sectors convened to examine facts and develop ways to have a better prepared work force.
At the Summit, one of the main questions discussed was, “How do we increase graduation rates?” It was noted that a focus on graduation must start before high school. Statistics show that if a child is not reading at grade-level by the end of the third grade, that child's chance of graduating is greatly diminished.
As the Summit drew to a close, the participants concurred that for children to have a successful educational experience the process must begin before school entry. It was also noted that through parent support some children begin kindergarten able to read at advanced levels while some do not even know their colors, shapes or numbers. Therefore, a major key to educational success and work force preparedness is parental involvement in their child's education.
A Vision Team was appointed at the Summit and assigned the task to research ways to promote increased parental involvement in their child's education. Through much research, the team identified an outstanding educational model, Parents as Teachers (PAT). PAT is recognized internationally as a standard of quality that operates on the premise that parents are a child's first and best teacher. The model design is an evidence-based, in-home parent education program.
The Starfish Project was developed to implement the PAT model in our community as a way of increasing parental involvement in their child's education. Starfish serves families with children between ages 0 -5 by providing tools and information to enhance their child's development. Funding for Starfish was awarded by the Bradley Memorial Hospital Fund managed by United Way of Bradley County Inc., and BICC launched the program in January 2009.
It was also in 2007 that another opportunity surfaced. Throughout its history, networking with other nonprofits has been essential to the work of BICC. Nonprofits share one common challenge, securing the financial funding to support the mission.
Many communities have a community foundation that helps connect philanthropic resources to the needs. Several of the BICC Board of Directors and other leaders in our community made a site visit to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and came to the conclusion that our community could better address the local needs if Cleveland and Bradley County had such a foundation.
A board was formed and plans were developed. In September 2009, the Community Foundation of Cleveland and Bradley County received the 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. The purpose of the Foundation is to facilitate ethical stewardship of philanthropic resources by helping connect those resources of the needs of Cleveland and Bradley County.
This brings us to 2009 — 11 years and 11 projects. God's amazing grace and thousands of people working together have helped to make Cleveland and Bradley County a better place to live, work, worship and raise a family.
This is not the end of the story! Next week I will share with you what may be the most exciting part of our journey yet. What is on the horizon?
This is Week #6 in a series that is being devoted to BICC and the various projects — the history, development, current status and future goals. I invite you to continue to join me here each week as I share the work and ministry of BICC. For more information, check out our website at www.bicc-inc.org; email email@example.com; or call 559-1112.
Each week I will pose a question and invite your response. You can mail your response to: BICC, P.O. Box 5404, Cleveland, TN 37311; or send an email the address above.
Question for Week #6: What do you consider are our community's greatest strengths or attributes — those things we need to cherish and preserve for our children and grandchildren?