A Brief on the Brief: Notes on the NCY-United Way Briefing
As a newcomer to DC, I’m new to the high volume of political discourse – and very new to the pervasive focus on money, the federal budget and deficit talk that’s all around us right now. However I recently found myself splat dab in the middle of all the action at policy briefing on Capitol Hill. The event marked the release of the policy agenda, “Building a Brighter Future: An Essential Agenda for America’s Young People,” hosted by the National Collaboration for Youth (NCY) and United Way Worldwide.
I emerged from Union Station to find myself staring straight at the Capitol building and a sea of suited pedestrians. And after a slight holdup at the metal detector (note to self: choose a non-belted blazer next time) it was up the elevator, past rows of Senators’ offices and into a meeting that helped me understand the connection between what can seem like distant--technical policymaking and the real world I live in.
NCY’s new policy brief recommends a comprehensive strategy for youth issues, focusing on ten essential and related elements from afterschool and summer programs to homelessness and family strengthening. These are recommendations to improve policies across the board.
For an audience of Senate committee members, leaders, advocates and policy interns with pens a-flying (yes, that’s me), two well-known advocacy leaders and five expert panelists shared their knowledge and passion. The keynote speakers, CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment (which manages SparkAction) Karen Pittman and David Johns, Senior Education Policy Advisor of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) spoke to the importance of collaboration and introduced five expert panelists—Kevin Parker from YouthBuild USA, Erik Peterson of Afterschool Alliance, Bob Seidel from the National Summer Learning Association, Lindsay Torrico of United Way Worldwide, and Susan Yoder of the American Camp Association—who shared their knowledge and passion for the brief’s recommendations.
Each speaker had his or her own issue area, yet was clear that everyone who spoke is working for the same goal: to be sure that all children receive the supports and the education they need to succeed in life.
“If not us, who? If not now, when?”
David Johns set the stage for the discussion with this quote from John F. Kennedy. This mindset, he emphasized, is crucial to keep in mind when fighting for education and social programs.
Johns gave an overview of the child and youth issues facing the 112th Congress. He focused on education but was careful to note that education touches on many social, economic, and emotional issues. Johns, like many of the speakers in the briefing, outlined the need for comprehensive programs that provide interactive, hands-on education and address the range of issues that feed into our dismal graduation rates, from early learning to family stability to juvenile justice.
Reaching and Engaging the People Who Matter
Several speakers talked about the need to mobilize communities to support educational programs. As a young person (and recent college grad), this really resonated with me. Once the government agrees to allocate money, we are the ones who are responsible for programs’ success.
Engaging and informing students, parents and local board members in education is the only way to be sure that effective programs are maintained and supported. To make this happen, we need effective communications and messaging at the local, state and federal level—communicating the true value of these programs to those who have the power to support them is the a key catalyst for change.
Yet it’s not easy to talk about public programs in the midst of this economic downturn, state budget struggles and the focus on reducing the federal deficit. Karen Pittman praised the collaborative communications work that nonprofit and advocacy organizations are doing: “In the tidal wave of funding fights, do we join hands or jump on our own little surfboards and try to stay afloat?” she asked rhetorically.
For me, the information shared during this briefing illustrated just how many of us are choosing to join hands and fight for equal, effective education and other policies for children and young people. As I walked out of the room, I felt awash in a collaborative spirit – and I realized that when we’re looking at education issues, we’re talking about a part of life that every single U.S. resident can relate to. No matter what quality or amount of education we have ourselves, we all have a part in ensuring that education remains a priority for the sake of our future.
To read the complete policy brief “Building a Brighter Future”, click here.
Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Assistant with SparkAction. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.