NEWS

Celebrating Collective Opportunities

Beacon Health System received a $5.4 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for the Healthy Start Initiative: Eliminating Disparities in Perinatal Health. The Healthy Start Initiative will aim to improve birth outcomes, promote health equity, and eliminate health disparities. As part of the initiative, the Michiana Family Journey program will bring together more than 25 nonprofit partners in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. This initiative has significant alignment to the Building Strong Brains Coalition work focused on maternal and child health. We are thrilled for our region to have this opportunity for continued collective impact!

Convening and connecting across the network

The Building Strong Brains Coalition continues to strategically learn together, develop, and implement action strategies, as well as identify ways to overcome barriers to progress. These diagrams show how the three action team focus areas are evolving to be more precise and focused on overcoming those challenges.

Maternal and Child Health Action Team


Quality Child Care and Early Learning Environments Action Team


Community Supports for Children and Families Action Team

  • The Community Supports for Children and Families Action Team is researching and piloting findhelp, a search engine providing opportunities to identify and connect families to resources. To learn more about findhelp, visit findhelp.org and see the included information sheet below.

FindHelp.org Free Tools for Community Organizers

Collaborating on a checklist

Caitlin Wynne, a member of the Community Supports for Children and Families Action Team who works as a school social worker at Bristol Elementary, reached out to ask if the Building Strong Brains network had a kindergarten readiness tool for public use.

Caitlin was seeking a tool that she could share with families to help encourage kindergarten readiness. When she approached Leah Plank, Senior Director at Horizon Education Alliance and Parent and Family Systems Acting Director for Triple P Elkhart County, the collective work began with making a connection with Sonya Overman, Growing Readers Supervisor at Elkhart Public Library.

Caitlin wanted a simple tool that was an easy-to-read resource that aligned with the state standards. She volunteered to lead the development of the tool and worked with Leah to develop a draft that she could share with the families at her school. This draft (with her consent) was then shared out with the action team. (Download a Spanish or English version in the upper right.)

Additionally, Triple P partner Emily Herriott wanted the tool translated into Spanish for an upcoming Triple P K-Readiness presentation she was leading. She collaborated with Goshen Community Schools translation services to ensure a high-quality Spanish translation. Andrew Hershberger, in his Director of Marketing and Communications role with Triple P/HEA, created the design for both the English and Spanish tools.

The tool was then distributed at Triple P workshops and with action team members. We are grateful for the collective effort that went into creating this valuable resource. It truly exemplifies the power of collaboration and innovative collective thinking.

Thank you to all who collaborated in developing, designing, providing feedback, and implementing the K-readiness checklist. This is exciting collective work!

News from the teams

Communications Support Team

  • Surveyed the community to learn about Elkhart County early childhood messaging
  • Conducted a branding workshop
  • Launched social media. Follow Building Strong Brains on Facebook
  • Developing and planning a website refresh

Data Support Team

  • Reviewed Elkhart County and state dashboards
  • Developed an inventory of existing (aligned and publicly accessible) data
  • Met with the action team co-chairs to understand data and research needed to inform action work and measure progress
  • Working with the Health System Alignment Team to provide data to inform the work and discussion
  • Will support implementation of Visible Network Labs for network analysis and measure the strength of the Building Strong Brains coalition network to scale systems impact

Health System Alignment Team

Conversations among health care providers are focused on ways to increase early and adequate prenatal care. Complex problems require complex solutions. The Maternal and Child Health Action Team, the Health System Alignment Team, a subcommittee of medical providers, and organizations working directly with families are actively engaged. This is another example of where collective work can shift systems and produce better outcomes!

Steering Team 

The Steering Team continues to meet monthly to hear updates from across the system. They will offer feedback to a newly forming Design Team to launch a pilot project to serve new parents in several geographically defined locations – to test strategies. True to the coalition’s values, this effort will be informed, and “directed” by parents.

Leadership Table

The Leadership Table had the opportunity to review a strategy idea from one of the action teams at its May meeting. The Leadership Table shared its support, along with guiding questions for further consideration as the action team continues to develop the plan. After suggesting a pilot project at its February meeting, members of the table heard an update, offered feedback and guiding questions, and supported the approach. The Leadership Table requested a framework reflective of the coalition’s goals and strategies to use as they contribute ideas, challenges, and innovations.  The Leadership Table is scheduled to meet again in August.

Networking events

Family Child Care Professionals  

Family Child Care Professionals had their first networking meeting in April with the goal of building a dynamic network for professionals who understand the unique challenges and provide support, through training, resources, and mentorship. Sponsors of the event were Geminus and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

Early Childhood Directors Roundtable

The Early Childhood Director’s Roundtable met in April for a presentation led by Shin Yee Tan (the SOURCE), and Sarah Cole (the SOURCE), “Managing Challenging Behaviors.” Sponsors of the event were Crossroads United Way, the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, Geminus, and The SOURCE.

Building Strong Brains Coalition Meeting

A cross-sector Building Strong Brains Coalition network meeting was held on April 24. A lunch meeting allowed the Building Strong Brains network to share and learn about progress, ongoing work, and collaboration across the network.

Tamarack Institute Turf, Trust, and Collaboration Workshop in May

Partners from Building Strong Brains joined with the Connect in Elkhart County initiative and Student Pathways systems partners for a strategic learning opportunity with Tamarack Institute. Participants explored engagement, building trust, and the importance of collaboration for systems work with Liz Weaver, President and Co-CEO of Tamarack Institute. Collectively, this learning opportunity led to intentional and meaningful dialogue with a realization and appreciation for all the important systems work happening in Elkhart County!

Upcoming events

  • FREE Professional Development Opportunity: Intentional Teaching (earlylearningindiana.org)
  • IU Early Childhood Center at the Indiana Institute of Disability and Community is hosting There is Always Hope: 2024 Early Childhood Relational Health Webinar Series. This multi-part series is completely free for all early childhood professionals in Indiana. Webinar topics include, Pediatric Behavioral Health: Insights into promoting well-being among our youngest learners. Early Relational Health (ERH): Strategies for enhancing school readiness through positive relationships. Classroom Resilience: Practical approaches to building resilience in early childhood settings. And more! Learn more and register here to secure your spot.
  • Systems change is complex, innovative, and interconnected. To learn more about systems change and interconnected practices for impact, read this piece from Tamarack Institute.
  • The TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago—home to Parent Nation—is developing a powerful new survey tool that measures parents’ knowledge and beliefs about early childhood development. This tool, which is called SPEAK-CAT, will ultimately help researchers, clinicians, and other professionals understand what parents know about their children’s development—and how to best support them. TMW is seeking participants for a paid online study to help refine and validate the SPEAK-CAT tool.

If you are interested or know a parent or caregiver who is, please fill out or share the online survey (linked below) to see if you are a good match for the study. If you qualify, you will be invited to an initial study session, where you will complete a variety of survey items about your parenting beliefs and practices for approximately 40 minutes. If your child is old enough, you will be invited to two other sessions, which involve a brief recorded play session with your child with some additional surveys and activities (about 25-60 minutes) and an interview with a live researcher (about 30-40 minutes), both over Zoom.

As a thank you for your time, you will receive a $15 gift card following the first session. Participants who complete all three sessions, will receive up to $80 in total compensation.

If you are interested in participating, please complete the this screener.

Calls to action

Celebrating National Library Week

Libraries are pillars in our community that serve the public good as places where we can see knowledge and connection. Libraries play a huge role in community literacy. They help all of us learn and grow. They work for the public good.

We are excited that our local libraries are joining the community in the Building Strong Brains work as key community partners and experts. Several library staff members have joined in the work of our Building Strong Brains Action Teams. They are becoming part of this early childhood systems change work in our community.

National Library Week

This is National Library Week (April 7-13) and we wanted to thank all the librarians in our community for the work they do to improve literacy for all of us. We recently surveyed local libraries about how they’re helping children and their families get ready for kindergarten. Most libraries are offering story times and a variety of other activities. We encourage you to visit your local library to learn more about their programs and opportunities. Here’s what we learned from the survey:

Goshen Public Library

The library is reaching out to parents of young children and promoting five key practices for early literacy:
Talk!   |   Sing!   |   Read!   |   Write!   |   Play!The Give Me Five Literacy Campaign has a full range of resources to spread the word, including a letter, talking points, and other ways the library and others can share and learn about these five key practices.

Give Me 5

Goshen Public Library also offers a regular series of social and literacy programs for children and families, including:

Baby & Me Lapsit – A pre-literacy storytime with songs, rhymes, and play that introduce little ones to new words, listening and motor skills, and socialization.

Little Wonders – A storytime where 2- to 4-year-olds talk, read, write, sing, and play their way into learning.

Go Kits – Backpacks containing five stories in English, Spanish, or both, as well as a craft activity to do at home.

LOTE4Kids – An online resource that offers a collection of digital books for kids in 65+ languages, with English translations.


Elkhart Public Library downtown

The main branch has programs, including:
1,000 Books Before Kindergarten – A reading challenge to encourage caregivers to read 1,000 books with their children before they start kindergarten. Parents get a growth chart to track their progress, as well as free stickers and books to mark accomplishments.Storytimes – Each library location has at least one storytime a week. Storytimes are great opportunities for kids not yet in school to experience stories, songs, and other activities with other children their age. For more information, visit https://www.myepl.org/events/category/storytimes/list/Kindergarten Assessments – Libraries can help parents with a quick 20-minute assessment with a reading tutor to measure a child’s readiness, and library staff can give guidance on what to work on if they are not quite ready yet. To learn more, visit https://www.myepl.org/prek/Growing Readers – Growing Readers is a tutoring program to support young readers who need additional support for learning and growing with reading. Additionally, the program supports preschoolers who need an extra boost with getting ready for kindergarten. Weekly 30-minute sessions with a reading tutor will build your child’s literacy skills to get them on the right track for learning to read. https://www.myepl.org/growingreaders/Text and Learn for Kindergarten (TALK) – This texting service sends parents messages twice a week with early literacy tips and ideas to do at home. The ideas are targeted to each child’s specific age and ability.Free Books from the Book Bus – The Book Bus is giving away free books to kids of all ages at numerous community events and locations. In 2023 EPL gave away nearly 13,000 children’s books for kids to build their home libraries.

Elkhart Public Library has books on a huge array of topics and can even help families navigate challenges such as help with health insurance. “The library is working on providing more bilingual resources and making it easier for people to access resources,” said Allison McClean, head of Young People’s Services at the downtown location.


Wakarusa Public Library

The library often has a waitlist for its story hours. Children’s Librarian Kristin Sherk at the library said, “We offer an eight-week Fall and Winter Story Hour session called ‘Beginning Story Hour.’ This is a 30-minute interactive time of songs, stories, and play for children 18-36 months assisted by their caregiver.  Beginning Story Hour is held on Wednesday mornings at 10:15.”

The library also offers a 10-week preschool story hour session that is 45 minutes of early literacy activities, songs, and stories, as well as a brief playtime.  These sessions are held on Monday and Tuesday mornings at 10:15. Registration is required for all story hours.

The library encourages families to sign up for 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten and to begin a reading routine with their little ones.

“Moms are looking for a clean, safe place for their children to play and interact with others,” Kristin wrote, so the library becomes a place for play dates.


Middlebury Public Library

Middlebury Public Library offered nearly 200 programs in 2022 for community youth. It offers art nights, story times, and helps with STEM education and homeschooling.

The library would like to have a makerspace for children and others to make their creative ideas become realities.

Brit Taylor, youth services librarian, echoed other librarians we surveyed in saying that she and her coworkers try to find enough time to market what they offer and be available at the hours people want to use the library.

 

Implementing community supports for young children and families in Elkhart County

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Crossroads United Way, Elkhart County’s Imagination Library affiliate, is leading the continued outreach and enrollment of young children in Elkhart County. Elkhart County has already enrolled 1,445 children to receive a free book every month. 

Children from birth to 5 years old can be signed up to receive a free book every month until their fifth birthday. Visit https://imaginationlibrary.com/ for more details and to sign up.

“Where’s Dolly?” Imagination Tour

Our very own cut-out of Ms. Dolly will be visiting different locations to help encourage enrollment and of course providing a fun chance for a photo/selfie! Miss Dolly comes with extra enrollment information, display books, and United Way resources.

Community partners, government organizations, businesses, and event organizers can also schedule a “tour” stop on the “Where’s Dolly?” Imagination Tour by attending one of the kick-offs or contacting Jill Yoder at yoderj@crossroadsuw.org or (574) 295-1650.

Bright By Text

Crossroads United Way is leading the launch and implementation of Bright by Text, a nationwide texting platform supporting parents and caregivers of children prenatal to age eight in their daily interactions. Parents receive free tips, information, games, and resources to support nurturing caregiver-child relationships, strengthening families, promoting healthy child development, and improving school readiness.

Triple P For Baby

Horizon Education Alliance is leading the launch and implementation of Triple P for Baby, a program focused on supporting parents with the transition to parenthood and the first year of their baby’s life.  The program will only be available in English to start, but stay tuned for a Spanish-language version. Sign up online for Triple P For Baby, which will launch this spring! You can sign up to join the waitlist for the new online parent support program just for parents of babies (up to 18 months) and parents-to-be.

JOIN NOW

Parent Cafes

Child And Parent Services hosts a parent cafe every month that offers fun activities for children, continuing education, giveaways, and the chance to interact with other parents and caregivers.

The upcoming events are: 

April 10, 2024, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Theme: Makin’ some April magic: Bit by Bit Blossom by Blossom, April is the time that Spring starts Poppin’  

May 17, 2024, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Theme: Nurturing the Seeds to Grow Strong Families  

June 11, 2024, 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Theme: Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World  

July 16, 2024, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Theme: Making lemonade when you only have lemons

To RSVP, go to https://capselkhart.org/community-initiatives/, or call (574) 295.2277, ext 252, or email frc@capselkhart.org

Inspiring and educating communities

Libraries are one of the bedrocks of American life and experience. They are community treasures that play huge roles in inspiring and educating our communities. Thank you to our Elkhart County libraries for the amazing and important work they do in Elkhart County!

Representatives from Elkhart County libraries are actively engaged in the Building Strong Brains work, bringing important information about a bedrock community support for young children and families into the collective work and discussion. A number of library staff members are joining our Action Teams.

We are gathering information about the ways our local libraries are helping children and their families grow and thrive before they reach kindergarten. We’ll share that soon and you’ll read more about it in a future newsletter.

We invite you to join us in this work

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Career Opportunities

Building Strong Brains is looking for an Assistant Director - Early Childhood Coalition.