A goal of a community leader is to work within their communities to identify the strengths and resources available to meet the needs of children and their families. In achieving these goals, community leaders often conduct a community needs assessment to strategize and prioritize what frameworks to utilize to combat community issues.  An ever pressing theme, especially for low income communities of color, is community violence. Community violence can be the result of many complex and intersecting issues, such as lack of housing, poverty and unemployment, which are stressors on community members. Therefore, before local leaders begin to address community violence, they must understand the historical root causes of violence in their communities and how it intersects with the work they are doing with early childhood systems change efforts, since they are not mutually exclusive—rather they are intertwined and must be addressed simultaneously. This practice is what system leaders’ call “action learning.”

In Chicago, there are many communities who are practicing action learning in their everyday work. The following stories feature local collaborations using action learning to hold each other accountable to develop and implement strategies that respond to acts of violence in their communities, while also advancing early childhood systems change strategies.

Austin Community (Chicago):  Through Austin Coming Together, local collaboration partners share a vision of supporting families in enrolling their children in early childhood programs. However the community has worked very hard to address structural violence, in the form of poverty and the withholding of basic resources, inflicted on families which make it especially challenging to get young children into and retain them in quality early care and education. By acknowledging that structural violence is the root cause of the street violence, they are addressing the problem at its roots which should help to alleviate both problems. Families have shared concerns with local collaboration leaders that they consider where the programming is located and travel as a factor in their decision to enroll their children in early childhood programs. Parents have voiced their concerns about traveling back and forth to early learning programs, particularly after mid-afternoon. Therefore, programs have changed their outreach and enrollment strategies for their early childhood programs to respond to the needs of families in their communities.

The Austin Community focused on two strategies: creating a Director’s Roundtable to focus on quality and hiring parents and grandparents to meet parents where they were currently gathering, such as restaurants and libraries, to support their recruiting efforts. The groups leveraged the existing relationships to implement their strategies, make changes as needed and accomplish small wins.

Little Village and Pilsen Communities:  While the Little Village and Pilsen communities were planning their community outreach and recruitment strategies for early childhood, issues of community violence emerged as a challenge for the collaboration. The issue of historical community violence caused some outreach efforts to be delayed or rescheduled altogether. The dynamics impacted their efforts to provide opportunities to learn about the importance of early childhood and ways to enroll their children in early learning programs. The collaborations also realized that outreach staff were concerned about their own personal safety while doing community outreach efforts. As a result, staff came together to discuss how violence was impacting these communities and identified creative strategies to support their communities’ families and children. For instance, the collaboration leaders adapted and implemented their approach by monitoring the news on TV, twitter and Facebook before visiting the community to be aware of the latest happenings and decided if they had to reschedule that day’s outreach. Another practice implemented was having continuous meetings to debrief about the latest happenings, as well as to explore additional strategy adaptations.

Both communities above use an action learning approach to respond to the needs of their communities and address issues such as violence, poverty and safety. Community leaders are also mindful of the root causes of issues, because with this understanding, they are able to approach their work with an intentional and thoughtful lens when working to advance early education systems change with community members. For more information on action learning, please visit the Partner Plan Act website.


For more information or to be connected to collaboration leaders and learn more about their techniques please contact Edna Navarro-Vidaurre, Asst. Director Community Systems Development at e.n.vidaurre@actforchildren.org .