Since the President spoke to us last month about his "community solutions" agenda
, a number of people have asked me, "What exactly do community solutions look like?" Well, many of us already have them in our own neighborhoods – innovative answers to our local challenges, creative and results-oriented solutions just waiting to be discovered. This is precisely what I found when I visited EverybodyWins! in Des Moines, Iowa last week.
Back in 1991, five friends with full-time jobs decided that they wanted to make an impact on the low reading and literacy rates of students in their neighborhood. They began by committing just one hour at lunch a week to reading to kids in the local school. Since then, their group has grown into a national youth literacy and mentoring program for low-income elementary students called EverybodyWins! with over 7,000 volunteers that serve more than 9,000 public school students in 16 states and the District of Columbia. And their lunch hour volunteering – the "Power Lunch" program – has been proven, through rigorous evaluation, to strengthen reading proficiency and overall academic performance, and enhance students’ attitudes toward and motivation to read.
As I wrote in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register
, EverybodyWins! is exactly the type of community solution that President Obama asked me to identify when he called on his Domestic Policy Council to scour the country for the very best, most innovative, most successful programs in our communities. I also discussed great programs in places from San Francisco to Milwaukee, along with our intention to visit every region of the country to see what is working for them. President Obama has asked Congress for $50 million for a new community innovation fund – to be housed at the Corporation for National and Community Service – to identify these promising programs through a competitive grant process and to provide them with the support they need to grow and expand. And he has challenged foundations, philanthropists, and the private sector to partner in these efforts by providing resources, advice, and matching funds so that community solutions can be replicated all across our nation.
I recently visited the EverybodyWins! Iowa chapter at the Carver Community School in Des Moines. I spent time reading out loud with Sandy and Diane. And I sat down with staff and volunteers to discuss how the Des Moines chapter has gained strength since its inception in 2003.
EverybodyWins! found an Iowa champion in home state Senator Tom Harkin, an EverybodyWins! volunteer in Washington, DC who understood the value of the program from his personal experience... Senator Harkin helped bring together local schools, non-profits, and businesses to successfully fund and launch the program in 2003, creating a strong foundation on which the program has thrived.
Tyler Weig, the Executive Director of EverybodyWins! Iowa, cites support from two AmeriCorps volunteers as pivotal to expanding the creativity and reach of the program, doubling the number of students served since 2006. Adam Fanning, one of their AmeriCorps members, has engaged local businesses in innovative ways, including a partnership with a Des Moines taxi company that provides free rides for volunteers. The Carver Community School’s unique relationship with the Boys and Girls Club chapter that is housed within the same facility adds further capacity for serving students during the school year and throughout the summertime and holidays.
And success has not slowed down EverybodyWins! Iowa’s drive to do even more. Tyler discussed plans for creating a "Power Breakfast" at the Carver Community School, which will be staffed primarily by local senior citizen volunteers.
EverybodyWins! is one of the countless "hidden gems" across the country that is successfully bringing together people from all sectors to address community challenges with solutions proven to work. Stay tuned for more as we search the country over the coming months for other innovative and successful community solutions.
And if you know of organizations that are successfully addressing challenges in your community, please tell us about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo credit: Jill Fleming Photography)
Melody Barnes is Director of the Domestic Policy Council.