‘Game-changing’ initiative aims to shape entire Evanston community

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

Evanston community leaders are drafting a proposal to bring a long-term education initiative called Cradle to Career to the city.

Cradle to Career has established itself with the vision that “by the age of 23, all Evanston young adults will be leading productive lives, building on the resources, education and support that they and their families have had to help them grow into resilient, educated, healthy, self-sufficient, and socially responsible adults.”

It relies on a “collective impact” model that aims to mobilize various organizations and entities in order to better serve a common goal.

The idea for a community-wide move came to light in October 2012 at a meeting with leaders in Evanston, school district 202 superintendent Eric Witherspoon said. They picked up Cradle to Career from the national Strive Network and decided to apply its basic concept to the Evanston community. Witherspoon and a few key leaders have met continuously in order to mold the model to fit Evanston’s structure.

“It’s a game-changing proposal and initiative for our community,” Witherspoon said. “It will save youth in so many effective ways for a long, long time.”

The effort focuses not only on developing the parts of the community that deal with youths in district schools, but also the parts concerning teenagers and concerning young adults transitioning to the job market; hence the initiative’s name. Witherspoon said that for Cradle to Career to work, it needs the involvement of all sectors, including businesses, schools and for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Witherspoon said this full-blown engagement is critical to the program’s success. The entire community must learn its responsibility in furthering the lives of young people by making the most available to them, he said.

“We’re still not getting all the outcomes of youths that we could be getting,” he said. “There are still gaps in the system. We have to make sure no children fall between the cracks. We all agree that we will hold ourselves accountable to shared metrics.”

Several community groups have already expressed interest in participation, including the Youth Organizations Umbrella, the McGaw YMCA, the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, and the Second Baptist Church and Childcare Network of Evanston, Witherspoon said

Cradle to Career has also reached out to Northwestern University and Oakton Community College to span its work to post-secondary years.

NU President Morton Schapiro expressed his support for collaboration between the Evanston schools and the university.

“We should prosper together,” Shapiro told The Daily. “We’re really trying to do that. There are a lot of people who have gone through the high school and Northwestern and to kind of bring them back and celebrate all the things that we’re doing together, that’s really town-gown.”

Cradle to Career is currently in the process of creating a steering committee to lead the entire movement, YMCA, outgoing president Bill Geiger said. This team will be in charge of communication among various participating organizations and of maintaining a centralized vision.

In promising participation, each partner that joins will have to contribute a first-year commitment donation.

The initial budget is estimated at $250,000 to get the initiative off the ground. As more groups sign on, Witherspoon said more funds will pay for employees and more long-term work.

D202 is already planning to contribute $50,000, Witherspoon said. Geiger said if the board approves YMCA’s participation in the effort, he plans to recommend they donate $10,000 to Cradle to Career.

Moving forward, Witherspoon said he wants at least 30 organizations to have expressed interest in participating in the initiative by June. By next year, he hopes every single Evanston organization will have signed on — an ambitious, but reachable goal, he said.

The target date for the first round of participation agreements is June 30.

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Twitter: @paigeleskin