A Year of Challenges and Achievements

Cecilia Garcia
December 26, 2005

We will remember 2005 for many things. For many Americans, most notable was the shared experience of witnessing the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The impact on our neighbors in the gulf coast is indescribable, and the reconstruction of their lives is painfully slow.

As we did in the horrible hours after 9/11, Connect for Kids went to work gathering online resources to help people sort out how best to help in the relief effort, and how to counsel children watching the images of the human suffering caused by this natural disaster. I wrote an entry for my blog about Katrina that generated quite a few comments from our visitors who wanted to help children affected by the hurricane. Our Hurricane Resources proved to be one of our most visited pages. As proud as we were to offer this service, we were even more proud of CFK board member Joe Getch. Joe volunteered with his church to go to Gulfport, Mississippi to help with the relief effort. He told us his ten days there had a profound effect on him. Thanks to Joe and the thousands of Americans who found a way to help when the need was so great.

CFK: the 2005 Model

On Monday, February 28th, we launched the re-designed Connect for Kids Web site. Spearheaded by CFK Webmaster Jeremy Isett, the re-design was a team effort that has resulted in a Web site that engages visitors to ConnectforKids.org in new ways.

New elements include

• Action Central – a home base for child advocates to find the latest news, events, action alerts, ideas for addressing public policy issues and tools for strengthening organizations. Action Central is among the top ten most visited pages on ConnectforKids.org.

• Book Corner – a place for book-related information, this resource contains CFK book reviews, transcripts of CFK Book Chats, and links to reading and literacy resources.

• Under the CFK Umbrella – our blog provides a space for CFK staff to comment on a variety of issues.

• Re-vamped State Pages – The CFK State pages now host a number of state-specific resources that include organizations, experts on youth issues and articles.

We've seen an increase in traffic to ConnectforKids.org since the launch of the re-designed Web site. From March 1st through December 15th, we've logged more than 1.5 million page views and more than 589,000 visitor sessions. This is a testament to the hard work of CFK editor Susan Phillips, who oversees the creation of new content for the site. You can browse through the Connections archives to see the range of topics we covered in our articles this past year.

More than 22,000 people subscriber to one or more of the CFK e-newsletters. We've re-formatted the CFK Weekly and added Re-Connecting Our Youth, an e-newsletter geared to those interested in helping young people make a successful transition to adulthood.

Advocacy

Our advocacy work in 2005 continued to focus on two major areas: federal budget and tax policies as related to children's issues, and youth development. Key to this work is a communications collaboration coordinated by CFK advocacy director Jan Richter.

Highlights of this work in 2005 include:

Memo on Re-Connecting Our Youth
Connect for Kids worked with the Center on Law and Social Policy and other organizations to identify key policy recommendations for the Bush administration's second term. These recommendations were included in the Memo on Re-Connecting our Youth, which was submitted to the White House on January 27, 2005. Connect for Kids coordinated the recruitment of more than 260 national, state and local organizations to sign this memo, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Youth Service America, Campfire USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the National Youth Employment Coalition, Child Welfare League of America, Youthbuild USA, National Collaboration for Youth, the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, and the National Education Association.

Counting Graduates
In his 2005 State of the Union address, President George Bush announced the First Lady's new Helping America's Youth initiative. This initiative makes the case that improving high school learning and increasing graduation rates are critical goals for strengthening our economy as well as helping individual students and families. While national attention was focused on this critical issue, Connect for Kids worked with youth policy advocates to urge policy makers to establish a uniform standard for measuring graduation rates to track individual students and success rates, and to balance calls for more high-stakes testing with built-in incentives to keep students in school or alternative educational pathways, and not push them out.

Don't Forget the Forgotten 32%
Connect for Kids worked with policy advocates to be sure that "the other 32%"- the struggling students who don't complete high school and/or may not have a way to re-engage, were included in the National Governors Association's February meeting and in planning for the NGA's July summit.

Materials on the Dropout Crisis
Connect for Kids providing guidance for youth advocates on how to frame the issues related to the dropout crisis for different audiences, effective quotes, talking points, and words to use and avoid in referring to out of school youth. We also developed a document with key facts and links to major studies in order to help inform the media and public officials on the economic and human costs of high dropout rates, as well as important policy proposals to ensure more students complete their high school education.

Special Thanks to Two Special People

Connect for Kids has been blessed with dedicated people, both on our staff and on our governing board. Rob Capriccioso made major contributions in his two-plus years as CFK writer/reporter. His talent and knack for tracking trends in popular culture will be sorely missed, as well as his great sense of humor. Look for Rob's work on www.insidehighered.com.

We are also very grateful for the years of service of CFK founding board member Marjorie Craig Benton. The health and well-bring of children around the world has always been a priority for Marjorie, from her years as U.S. Commissioner, International Year of the Child, U.S. Ambassador to U.N.I.C.E.F., and board chair of Save the Children Federation to her work on behalf of Connect for Kids. She has provided the kind of leadership and guidance that a new organization needs in order to flourish. We thank her for that.

Looking Ahead

We plan to build on the success of our re-designed web site to encourage more visitors to interact with us in 2006. Our monthly online discussions will continue to offer a mix of policy issues, like race and poverty, and chats with authors of books on topics related to children, youth and families. We'll keep you informed on the latest policy and legislation. We'll continue to highlight the efforts of people working to make our communities better for kids.

Please be sure to let us know how we can help you in your efforts to improve the lives of children and families.

Cecilia Garcia is Executive Director of Connect for Kids.


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