Bi-State Coalition Crosses Wide Missouri; Spawns Training, Resources, Confidence

Bill Alexander
April 1, 1999

Kansas City’s Coalition for Positive Family Relationships Ignites Enthusiasm for Youth Work Training, Partnerships

It is a behemoth with a smiley face. Welcoming all and sundry, the Coalition for Positive Family Relationships has put in place a pastiche of youth development programs that have daringly trod new ground.

The huge and hustling coalition has partnered in a college-accredited youth-worker training course; created a teen program that puts an emphasis on placing teen youth workers in nontraditional areas (such as counseling younger kids); inaugurated a Family and Youth Issues Training Institute; and provided an assortment of task forces, workshops and forums that last year attracted some 1,500 people involved in a plethora of youth-related programs.

Gulping in 450 member organizations from an eight-county region known as the bi-state Kansas City Metroplex, the nationally praised coalition is, figuratively, the size of a whale. Its bimonthly general meetings, usually held at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, take on the look of a benign political convention.

“Anybody who is anybody belongs to it,” crows Duane Lewis, director of programs for Steppingstone, an Independent Living program for youth in Kansas City, Mo., run by the St. Louis-based Evangelical Children’s Home. Networking, collaborating and resource-sharing have been honed to such a degree by the coalition that its annual membership has jumped 20 percent each year since its founding in 1992.

The coalition has thrived amid a population of 1.6 million (including 160,000 youth) in rural, suburban and urban counties clustered around the adjoining borders of Kansas and Missouri, and including Kansas City, Kans. and Kansas City, Mo. The coalition consists of nonprofits and for-profits from wildly varying economic environments and social outlooks — high-income suburban to low-income inner city — and a wide variety of state, county, and city agencies. Coalition-coordinated campaigns stress linkages across professional lines and involve groups large and small in the metroplex’s civic, social service, corporate and spiritual communities. These efforts are spearheaded by and include such groups as the Housing Authority of Kansas City (Mo.), Families Together, Inc. (Kans.), the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, the Foster Grandparent Program (Mo.), the Johnson County (Kans.) Library System, the Salvation Army, the Mid-Continent Girl Scouts, the Jackson County (Mo.) Family Court System, and the Center for Management Assistance (Mo.) which offers guidance to nonprofits.

One of the partnerships now shaping up involves the Children’s Museum of Kansas City (Kans.), which is collaborating on a project that would open its doors for weekly art classes for teens enrolled in an inner-city alternative school run by the nonprofit Association of Youth Services.

Scores of other examples abound as resource-sharing activities encompass social services, mental health, health, education, the criminal justice system, arts and the environment.

“There isn’t anything like this. It’s so vast,” remarked Jennifer Oakes Salva, who administers the coalition’s youth-driven Project AIM (Assets In Motion), a program singled out for praise by James Vollbracht, a former director of training and now consultant for the Minneapolis-based Search Institute.

“We’ve come out of our individual cubicles to speak to one another across disciplines, cultures, and genders to put together material and programs for our youth,” avows coalition member Jude LaClaire, the head of a for-profit, the Life Weaving Institute, that deals with children from troubled families. LaClaire co-chairs the coalition’s all-volunteer Education and Training Committee, which oversees the FYI Training Institute. Her committee draws on the resources of 45 member organizations, including 17 college and university partners.

Possible Shutdown?

Yet at press time the coalition was in jeopardy of closing down in July. Its primary funder over the past seven years — the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — has not yet responded to a do-or-die sizable multi-year grant increase requested by coalition Executive Director Barb Friedmann. Drawing a line in the sand, she says “We either grow with more staff or we can’t maintain the organization.”

With a June 1 deadline, Kauffman indicates that it won’t make a decision until the last minute. The reason for this, according to a coalition source, is that there are “upper layers of people there who must approve the increase who don’t know us.” Since 1993, Kauffman has bankrolled $250,000 of the coalition’s escalating annual operating budget (it has now reached $563,000). Although sources say Friedmann is now asking for $500,000 from Kauffman, Friedmann remains mum. A former third-grade teacher who had an epiphany while doing volunteer youth work and switched careers, she says she is “hopeful” that Kauffman will come through. But some members of her staff of six full timers and two part timers have been floating resumes since April.

Kauffman’s Jerry Kitzi, who is its senior vice president of youth development and a coalition booster, said the foundation’s support of the coalition is not typical of foundation-think. “Foundations generally don’t provide funds to coalitions because they’re not direct-service providers,” he said. “But coalitions like this are like the research and development arm of the youth development field.”

Coalition staffers added that the coalition is further restricted in seeking funding because it is not allowed to compete with its member organizations for grants. The ever-cheerful Friedmann, however, says despite the looming threat she’s planning ahead. Her rallying cry is, “Look how far we’ve come!”

Three Little Rules

At the outset, steep membership fees that would pay operating costs coupled with hard-to-get-in admission requirements were never factors in the coalition’s creation. “Anyone can join,” said Friedmann. “That’s the whole idea.” Sliding annual membership fees ranging from $10 to $300 are offered to preclude money from being an obstacle to the coalition’s in-service training opportunities. In addition, locally based national organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, barred by their internal policies from paying admittance fees, are given free membership into well-financed national campaigns and services.

There are, however, three little rules. “We have to keep the table neutral,” stresses Friedmann to all who wish to join, because “members embrace passions that run the gamut from the far left to the far right.” Therefore, before being admitted, Friedmann’s rules must be agreed to:

(1) All turf issues are to be left at the door.
(2) There can be no hidden agenda.
(3) If you “come to the table,” you must be willing to share.

“Everyone putting their own agenda outside the door is one of the wonderful, strong, simple norms that make this program work,” marveled Kauffman’s Kitzi. “This started out as a need to connect players in the youth development field because there was no coordination between the state, the counties and the private sector.” Then, he added, the coalition “snowballed” into “the strongest network in the metroplex area.” Kitzi likes the idea of “agencies with like-minded people and the same message combining resources for videos, campaigns, whatever.”

Inclusive and Diverse

“You’ve got to be willing to go out and talk to people,” recalled Friedmann of the initial efforts to expand the original 35-member coalition in 1992. “Before Kaufman entered the picture, I talked to 250 people who ran the gamut from presidents and CEOs of corporations to nonprofit and for-profit executive directors, to staff people in the public and private sector to people in neighborhoods— a whole spectrum of people. And nobody turned me down. It began to dawn that groups were not so far apart that they couldn’t see the benefits of multi-agency sharing and planning.”

Steve McCue, deputy director of Camp Fire Boys and Girls in Prairie Village, Kans., remembers pre-coalition days when “there was no easy way to find collaborators” because heavy competition among agencies for grants fostered a hold-your-cards-close-to-the-vest atmosphere that remains the national norm. With nearly two-thirds of the metroplex population on the Missouri side, bi-state agencies and private organizations and institutions tended to operate in isolation even as families moved between the two states. Staff in a youth-serving agency on the Kansas side, for example, didn’t know and wouldn’t call people on the Missouri side, and vice versa; efforts would be duplicated or no real help was given.

There was one other “either you’re for it, or you’re not” clause in the Friedmann canon: “We are inclusive and diverse,” she made clear at the beginning. “We had to go beyond speaking to the urban, middle-class white population and get into the neighborhoods where there are Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Laotians, Russians, Japanese and others. We had to tear down barriers and create a sense of community by sharing information and resources.”

“This is called democracy,” declared David Ross, senior vice president of the Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank, which is trustee for a local foundation that regularly channels funds to the coalition. “It’s amazing how many people attend these meetings, how much they like it.” He especially admires the collaborative “grass-roots grantmaking” that occurs.
But there are detractors. Critics, including major players in the youth development field, continue to trash the coalition in the boardrooms of prospective funders by saying in a non-complimentary way, “They’ll let anybody join.” According to informed sources, the critical undertow has cost it in terms of securing potential funders and a stable future.

Youth Worker Training

In 1997, the year membership started to top 400, the coalition entered into a partnership with Longview Community College in K.C., Mo., and the currently embattled YouthNet of Greater Kansas City to develop a “Youth Outreach Worker Certificate Program.” Longview had been the recipient of a $240,000 three-year grant from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund to professionalize and upgrade youth workers through ongoing in-service training.

Friedmann saw this as an opportunity to “build a career ladder” for youth workers that would eventually lead to a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, along with the overdue inclusion of urban-based experiences into the then-tilted rural focus of social work and human service curricula.

“They should learn how to relate to urban families and inner-city youth because so many of the youth worker backgrounds don’t relate to this situation,” she said.

Accordingly, Longview courses were designed specifically to create interest in youth work that would eventually result in a cadre of trained workers who possess essential core competencies. Scholarships were made available for those certified youth workers who choose to continue their education.

“They are not the best paid people. In fact, their salaries are low,” said Friedmann. “This ‘career-ladder’ strategy will help them attain higher salaries commensurate with their education.”

The three key strategies devised by the partnership to attain the certificate include: 1) a three-and-one-half hour “Introduction to Youth Development” seminar that introduces key principles of youth development that highlight new language and concepts; 2) monthly ongoing in-service training sessions that address topical youth work issues; and 3) 12 specified hours of college credit classes that include the three-credit “Introduction to Human Services” and the three-credit “Principles of Youth Work,” one of the few such courses in the nation.

Each scholarship, worth $850, covers the cost of books and fees, plus 10 hours of tuition. To be eligible, youth workers must attend the introductory seminar and participate in ongoing service training. In addition, they must have a minimum of one-year full-time experience or two years part-time experience. They may be paid or volunteer, and must maintain a 2.0 grade average.

According to YouthNet Interim President Deborah Craig, 30 youth workers have received scholarships to complete their 12 hours at Penn Valley Community College (Longview’s sister college). Seven graduated last December, six will graduate this summer, and 17 are still in the process of a matriculation that was thought to require 18 months, but, said Craig, is averaging one year.

Training Institute Jamboree

Jude LaClaire, a self-professed child of the ‘60s, is now busily preparing for an upcoming all-day workshop she will give on behalf of the coalition’s FYI Training Institute to 58 employees of the Missouri Division of Family Services.

“We’re bringing the ‘60s back with our multidisciplinary interaction and different mindsets that allow us to learn from one another,” exulted LaClaire. “I plan to relate all I’ve learned regarding using what I call the ‘whole brain, whole person’ approach to problem-solving to everyone from the administrators to the secretaries — all of the division people who impact on youth and children.”

Sandy Culig, the institute’s director, basks in the kind of attitude LaClaire reflects. “The institute’s training sessions, workshops, forums, conferences, think tanks, and library allows human service professionals and paraprofessionals in the field time to practice best practices.”

Launched the same year as the youth worker certificate program, the institute has sought a balance between academic theory and hands-on field experience. Training sessions are conducted by university and college professors with coalition member staff. Earl Thomas, the associate director of one of the coalition’s founding members, Project Eagle (a nonprofit research arm of the University of Kansas Medical Center), helped develop the institute’s first curriculum.

“The idea was to create a cadre of trainers from among our members who were certified by the coalition to meet training needs in other agencies,” Thomas said. “If the Girl Scouts, for example, needed someone to talk to volunteers about adolescent development, we’d have a bank of trainers we could link up to them.”

“We come together, learn from one other, and those in the field know they’re not alone with their problems,” said Culig.

Last November, the institute began a series of monthly “train the trainer” sessions that was attended by 51 people representing 28 organizations. Last month the institute inaugurated a new forum concept hosted by two members (Penn Valley Community College and MediaWise) dealing with violence in the media. Sixty high school students — 30 from an urban area, 30 from suburbia — participated in a give-and-take “that allowed everyone to learn something,“ said Culig.

This forum preceded by 24 hours a U.S. Department of Education-funded six-part live satellite series downlinked to Penn Valley called “Partnerships for Preventing Violence,”moderated by Deborah Prothrow-Stith, director of the Division of Public Health Practice at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Roland Smart, a violence prevention specialist in Prothrow-Stith’s department, said he “got the word on the coalition” while at Harvard. He was so intrigued by what he heard, he said, he made a special trip here and attended some coalition meetings to see whether it would be an ideal place to downlink.

“I was flabbergasted,” recalled Smart. “I was an eyewitness to their covering the whole spectrum of agencies, organizations, and issues that dealt with the youth audience we were trying to reach.”

The coalition got the downlink. But no word yet on the Kauffman grant.

Resources

Mark Gingrich

Executive Director

Bridges of Hope

1208 Osage Ave.

Kansas City, KS 66105

(913) 281-4700

Linda Spence

Public Relations Officer

The Children’s Mercy Hospital

Gillam Road

Kansas City, MO 64108

(816) 855-1721

Barb Friedmann

Director

Coalition for Positive Family Relationships

6811 W. 63rd St., Ste. 308

Overland Park, KS 66202

(913) 362-6611 ext. 227

Sidebar:

Bi-State Coalition Crosses Wide Missouri; Spawns Training, Resources, Confidence: Youth-Driven Project AIM Delivers New Services the Teen Way


Alexander, Bill. "Bi-State Coalition Crosses Wide Missouri; Spawns Training, Resources, Confidence." Youth Today, May 1999, p. 8.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.

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