A child’s brain grows 90% in the first five years of life. That means the best opportunity to intervene and make a difference is before a child gets to kindergarten.
In 2009, five years before Lattie Dark attended that outreach block party, Bill Roberts was running the Robins Foundation. He invited Craig Ramey, the principal investigator on the Abecedarian project in North Carolina, to speak to the foundation’s board of directors. Craig convinced the board that a focus on early childhood development would deliver greater returns than any other investment they could make. That sounded like the kind of transformational change that the foundation wanted to support.
By then Bill had already been partnering with Sally Ribeiro, a career educator and community builder. Sally had long dreamed of bringing together government agencies and non-profits to better serve Richmond families who needed help to succeed and become self-sufficient. Back in 2002, Bill and Sally began hosting brown bag lunches with Robins Foundation grantees and officials in the local government and school system. They asked these community movers and shakers what was needed, where it was needed, and what it should look like.
The upshot, according to Sally: “There were many non-profits doing pieces and parts. But there was little or no coordination between them.”
“It was like an archipelago,” agrees Bill, “each agency on its own island. Everybody was doing a good job with their own enrolled kids, but measures of pre-literacy, third grade SOL tests, and high school graduation rates weren’t getting any better.” Families who weren’t enrolled were falling through the cracks.
After a year of listening, Bill and Sally wound up with three take-aways:
- Throwing money at the problem was not going to do any good in a measurable way.
- Any solution would have to be a collaborative effort. The agencies they’d been talking to had deep roots in the community. If an outsider came in and tried to take over, they’d get nowhere.
- Since the Robins Foundation only had so much money, the funds would have to be deployed in focused ways to produce the results they were looking for. ►