United Way, Evanston establish Neighborhood Network partnership

Ben Schaefer, Assistant City Editor

The United Way announced in early December that Evanston has been added to its Neighborhood Network community in Chicago, making the collaborative resources of the United Way and its partner organizations available to the city.

The national nonprofit will team with Evanston’s Cradle to Career initiative as its lead partner in engaging the community and working toward goals related to issues of youth education and stability for families with children. The United Way has already awarded a $50,000 planning grant for the Evanston community to begin work.

“We will work hand-in-glove with the United Way,” District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said. “They have data experts that can help us analyze metrics, and people with organizational skills to facilitate groups.”

Cradle to Career’s mission is to enable Evanston’s youth to be ready to lead productive lives by age 23. The group partners with community organizations to reach this goal through a collective impact model.

Cradle to Career adopted the collective impact model, which United Way also uses, about two years ago. The system emphasizes collective responsibility for shared goals among collaborating agencies.

“We started bringing them into planning committee meetings months ago because they know what we’re working towards and how we want to get there,” Witherspoon said. “They will be a really helpful partner in avoiding pitfalls and becoming more efficient.”

Cradle to Career has spent the last two years restructuring around the collective impact model by communicating goals and strategies to member agencies, Witherspoon said.

The next step for the partnership is to collect baseline data on health, education and community metrics to establish measurable markers for progress and target areas moving forward. The United Way’s resources and experiences in data collection will be an enormous asset in this regard, Witherspoon said.

By the beginning of year two of the partnership, Cradle to Career hopes to have the data needed to form solution design teams to tackle issues in different target areas. The initiative plans to announce its new executive director by the end of the month.

Evanston is one of nine new communities partnering with the United Way. The city joins Brighton Park and West Chicago, who are already members of the Neighborhood Network.

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