Wednesday, September 08, 2010
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The story of Healthy Communities Partnership

Part 2: Newest task force gearing up to change Logan County's standing in education

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[September 08, 2010]  Just in time for the back-to-school wave, the members of the Education Task Force for Healthy Communities Partnership have done their homework.

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 statistics.

"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 on.

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 latched together."

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 as well."

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 October.

"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."

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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 start.

"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?"


Online: Healthy Communities Partnership


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