2023 was a year of solid progress for ROC the Future Alliance’s Whole Child Initiative—one where community members laid a firm foundation for transformational change and upward mobility for Rochester’s most vulnerable youth and their families. Parent/Family Partners, Systems Partners, and Backbone Team members spent much of the year listening and learning about the barriers that prevent children aged 0-8 from reaching their full potential. The Whole Child Initiative (WCI) hosted 11 Systems Support Mapping events to help community members think about and visualize the systems that support children and parents, including healthcare, education and human services. We also hosted 12 Parent Cafés to provide structured, small group conversations that engage parents in improving these systems. 

All these events set the stage for a two-day Community Convening in October where Alliance members participated in the next critical phase of strategic planning. The WCI selected the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to facilitate the Community Convening and ARTISANworks—a not-for-profit art gallery located in a historical, renovated factory building—as the venue. ARTISANworks is known as “a place where people experience creation and inspiration.” Attendees were excited to experience its unique atmosphere. 

We used the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach for the Community Convening, which aligns well with the Whole Child Initiative because it is strength-based, person-centered, and naturally lends itself to achieving a shared vision. 

Central to this approach is the “5D” process of AI – Define, Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver. Through this process, participants identified nine critical issues to address in 2024:

  1. Maternal health disparities in people of color including neonatal births
  2. Mental Health Services including Tele-Mental Health for children in RCSD
  3. Early Childhood Education (including literacy)
  4. Early Intervention Services focused on Black and Brown families
  5. Special Education Services in RCSD
  6. Accessible and school-curriculum aligned Out of School Time / Afterschool Programming
  7. Family Court 
  8. Root causes of disparities 
  9. Nutrition & physical activity

Attendees broke into design teams and wrote draft action plans to solve each issue, then each team gave a five-minute presentation outlining their plans. They left the Community Convening understanding that there’s much work to do and that they’ll need to prioritize and potentially consolidate the list.

Next Steps 

In the weeks following the Community Convening, Parent/Family Partners and the WCI Implementation Workgroup have been focused on assigning these initiatives to the appropriate Alliance members, including those who were unable to attend the Community Convening. We’re excited to launch the implementation phase and grateful to have the support of such a dedicated community. 

We will continue to align the strategies within the Whole Child Initiative, while also exploring the possibilities of adding new workgroups if needed. We will also continue to provide additional professional development opportunities for PFPs to ensure they are equipped to work alongside Systems Partners and advocate for the community as a whole. 

As our facilitators from the Gandhi Institute said at the event:

“We celebrate the work each one of you is doing individually and collectively in our communities to create a future that truly honors and cares for children, families, and all people.”

-Gandhi Institute Facilitators

Read the report from Gandhi Institute Watch the recap video

To get involved, please visit https://rocthefuture.org/contact/.