When asked about the goals and effects of HCP's newest task force,
Heidi Browne, co-chair of the task force and events coordinator at
the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce, shoots off a list of
"Over $221,000 is spent over a lifetime on a high school dropout.
... Of 200 high school students who drop out, 99 percent were
involved in the courts system. ... 75 percent of prisoners do not
have a high school diploma. ... High school dropouts are 72 percent
more likely to be unemployed than graduates." ... And the list goes
Browne says the numbers are reflective of how education fits in
with the objectives of the other task forces of the Healthy
Communities Partnership -- a grass-roots organization started in
1997 that states its mission as "creating the healthiest community
in America, by improving the health and quality of life of the
people and communities we serve."
"Many of the things that we do fall in line with their mission
because lots of them go hand in hand," Browne said. "We have such a
high poverty rate, and some of the other things that go along with
that -- illness and unemployment and things like that -- go hand in
hand with not being educated. So those are things that feed into
their other task forces. It's kind of all interrelated and kind of
Kristin Lessen, director of the partnership, agrees.
Lessen jumped at the chance to take on the Education Task Force
after Browne, co-chair Wade Kaesebier and Lincoln attorney Jim
Grimaldi presented a project on Logan County dropout rates at a 2008
leadership academy. Motivated by an Associated Press article, the
group chose to focus its efforts on improving Logan County's
standing in education when compared with other communities.
"(The Education Task Force) is not health care-related," Lessen
said. "However, a lot of the other things the task forces work on
kind of contribute to the dropout and truancy rates: teen pregnancy,
substance abuse, violence, child abuse. ... It does kind of directly
relate to the economic health of the community.
"With our mission being to improve the health and quality of life
of the people we serve, I kind of think this counts as part of that
Now a year and a half out, the Education Task Force has broken
into three subcommittees to address specific needs related to
truancy and dropout rates. HCP unveiled these to the public July 29
at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital.
The first -- "Miss School, Miss Out" -- Browne describes as "a
marketing vision that says, ‘Without an education, you're missing
out on opportunities that will affect your future.'"
"Connections Count," the second subcommittee, is a mentoring
program that will be launched at Lincoln Junior High School in
"It will be 30 to 45 minutes per week during the school day,"
Browne said. "It will give (students) an adult listener, and it will
allow them to build on strengths that they have and learn new
things. ... And it will just give them somebody else who cares."
[to top of second column]
The final subcommittee is titled "JOBS," meaning Joint
Opportunities for Building Skills, and will work with businesses to
provide employment and internship opportunities. Browne says JOBS is
primarily for at-risk students.
"It ensures accountability, gives them a sense of accomplishment,
gives them an opportunity to learn and grow, and gives them some
direction for their future," she said.
Although it's too early to gauge success of the new programs,
Browne says that judging from the positive community feedback she
and the other task force members have received, she's optimistic.
"This is going to be a long-term project -- something that if we
start with sixth-graders or seventh-graders, we're not going to be
able to see how successful it is in each case until we see that
graduation rate," Browne said. "However, just seeing the community
support, for the community to be aware of issues like these, is a
"I've had people stop me and say, ‘What a great thing you're
doing,' and, ‘We're so proud that people are interested in helping
our community in this way.' And looking at the future of our
community and realizing that they are our future, if we don't invest
in them, what kind of future will we have?"
[By LINDSEY BOERMA]
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