The Family Connection began as a not-for-profit organization in 1986 under the name Abilities Unlimited. The name was changed to The Family Connection of St. Joseph County in 1996.
For many years, The Family Connection did projects throughout the community, always with a goal to make systems better and more responsive to children and families.
Since 2001, we've focused almost exclusively on raising quality in early childhood education through the Community Foundation's Early Years Count Education Initiative and Head Start.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the projects we have loved:
Focus groups for the St. Joseph County Public Library
When the library was set to build a new branch for Centre Township in 1997, they enlisted The Family Connection to conduct focus groups with potential patrons, from students to seniors. The library listened well to the public voices, resulting in a cozy, convenient, and inviting new building. Since then, we've gathered ideas and shared the dreams for the new Lakeville, North Liberty, German Township, and Francis library buildings, as well as the remodeling of River Park, LaSalle, Tutt, Western, and the main library basement. We love that the library works hard at meeting the needs of its constituents. You can see the branches here.
Step Ahead Needs Assessment for Children and Families
Imagine being turned loose for a whole year to find out everything possible about children and families in our county. In 1992, we were able to do just that. Our information gathering included interviews with 80 key informants, almost 30 focus groups, and a multitude of surveys—including a 4-page questionnaire returned by 2,135 families. There's a copy on hand at the St. Joseph County Public Library or you can borrow one from us if you are so inclined.
In 1993 - 1995, we partnered with Indiana's Bureau of Child Development to take a look at what was then termed "consumer involvement." We worked with—and learned greatly from—a group of dedicated parents who volunteered to join various committees and share their experiences with us. This work culminated in a written report, Lessons Learned: Consumer Involvement in First Steps and Step Ahead, that was shared throughout the country. You can find a copy here.
Partners in Learning
We helped write a US Department of Education Title IV Parental Assistance Grant to fund the start of the Indiana Center for Family, School and Community Partnerships in 1997, then wrote and produced a series of newsletters for them called Partners in Learning that was sent to all elementary schools in Indiana. We'll add links to still-relevant articles as we have time.
In 2000, we wrote a successful 21st Century Community Learning Center grant through the Department of Education for the South Bend Community School Corporation. This $3 million dollar, 3-year grant provided after-school programing for 600 children in five high-need elementary schools.
The Early Years Count!
In 2000, the Lilly Endowment gave Community Foundations in Indiana the opportunity to apply for a $5 million grant to enhance education in their counties. We were privileged to be able to work with the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County to develop and write a winning proposal that brought the Early Years Count! to our county. From 2001 to 2005, The Family Connection coordinated the project and ran "Bridges," the elementary school component. Since 2005, the Community Foundation’s Early Years Count Education Initiative has been funded through the generosity of local funders and The Family Connection has been running the entire project for the Community Foundation. You can find out what’s currently happening here.
Early Childhood Education and Care
By 2005, our community was more than ready for an updated needs assessment for children birth to five. We produced this report for the Step Ahead Council with funding from the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County and United Way. The report focused on the three ongoing issues of early childhood education and care: accessibility, quality, and affordability. You can download a copy here.
We love love love Head Start and have worked closely with teachers and administrators from the very start of the Early Years Count Initiative (and many of us in various roles and capacities prior to that). In addition to the work we do through the Early Years Count, we provide training, assessments, and individualized professional development to all the programs in our community under the Head Start / Early Head Start umbrella.