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December 1998

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Once Around The Block

A Better Place To Live

Chevron Fuels-Up For The Future

Imagine What Creativity Can Lead To



Columns
Lessons Learned At The Water Cooler

by Maryann Brennan
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Views for a Change

The Quality Tool I Never Use

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A Better Place To Live
How One Community Reached Out to Help Its Youngest Citizens

Every town has its share of challenges calling out for collaborative action. Neighborhood watch programs. Big Brothers and Sisters. Drug Free America. We are inundated with programs to address these challenges. And yet, many issues remain unaddressed waiting for the right person, at the right time, to take the initiative to help make their community a better place.

Tom Terez is one such person. Terez, like many of us, needed a defining moment to stimulate his involvement. For him it was the birth of his first child.

“I had never been around babies before and those first few months were quite an exercise in personal change management. Over time we all adjusted and began to marvel at the wondrous nature of child development,” recalls Terez.

The wondrous nature of Terez’ child’s development ignited a fire in him. He researched the beginning years of children’s lives and discovered that these years are the most significant in a person’s life. A child is born with 100 billion brain cells. By age three, a single cell can connect with as many as 15,000 other cells. There’s so much activity during this time that a child’s brain uses twice as much metabolic energy as an adult’s. “And the kicker: Children who are loved and nurtured during these precious years end up having brain-cell circuits that are more developed and functional,” states Terez.

Launching the Initiative
As Terez continued to acquire more information regarding early childhood development, he turned his attention to the community. “The challenge seemed so important, I wanted to know: What are we doing around town to support each other in giving kids the best possible start in life?” says Terez. What he found was a rather fractured system. Parents were talking to parents. Doctors were talking to doctors. Educators were talking to educators. “There was very little discussion and collaboration across groups and no articulated sense of a common mission,” says Terez. “That’s when I resolved to do something—to bring these groups together and launch a community initiative for the good of our youngest citizens.

As assistant director of the Ohio Office of Quality Services, Terez decided to apply some of the tools he uses in his quality efforts in state government to initiate a community group. “We have these wonderful tools and techniques for engaging people’s hearts and hands and minds, and it was easy to see how they could be used among community members to find new ways of helping newborns, toddlers and their families.” Thus began the Citizens’ Summit on Early Childhood.

Terez booked meeting space for two meetings. He clarified the overall “end in mind,” identified the specific tangibles that people would create and developed a process for making it all happen. Next came promotion. “I pulled out all the stops; posting signs and brochures at 15 local libraries, sending out news releases to all local media, following up with editors to ensure pre-event coverage and writing letters to community leaders and making calls to many others.”
Fifty community members attended the first meeting. The session focused on learning, relationship-building and information sharing. Three early childhood experts talked with participants, educating them on the first few years of child development. One of the ways they encouraged networking was by displaying three oversized writing stations throughout the room: the “I know” board, “I need” board and “I wonder” board. On the “I know” board people wrote the names and numbers of useful books, networks, organizations and people. The “I need” board illustrated specific needs and challenges participants were facing and finally questions regarding early childhood were posted on the “I wonder” board. “There was plenty of useful content, but perhaps more important was the nature of the 50 folks who attended,” says Terez. “The group reflected a wide mix of parents, early childhood professionals and others all united by the fact that everyone can do something for the good of our youngest citizens.”
The second session included the original 50 people and an additional 15. There was more time for networking and a brainstorming session. Eight carousel stations were positioned around the room each with a different label: parent, teenager, pre-teen, child-free single, child-free couple, senior and so on.

Each group was charged with developing ideas for children ages birth to three. With two people from each team writing furiously on ‘Post-It’ notes to capture each brainstormed idea, the eight teams worked simultaneously for 10 minutes. Then time was called and each team moved on to the next station,until they had visited all eight. “When it was all over, we stared in amazement at the 400 ideas the group had generated,” says Terez.

Building the Momentum
“By the end of this second session, many grassroots efforts had spontaneously emerged,” says Terez. Several parents exchanged phone numbers and went on to form a children’s play group. Another person launched a letter writing campaign. Yet another intervened in a child-abuse situation, thanks to information and inspiration she acquired at the Citizens’ Summit. And news reports about the event heightened community awareness.

Five months later, the group reconvened. Some of the members presented ideas for starting action teams targeted at specific problems or opportunities. “The folks gave brief commercials for their ideas and through the conversation with the group, fine-tuned their missions.” Terez explains.

Four ideas emerged and the group organized itself into four separate teams; people headed to the station that seemed the best fit for their interests and talents. Each team spent the remaining time developing a mission statement, trading names and numbers, getting to know one another and sketching out a set of next steps.

Headed in the Right Direction
“One of the biggest challenges is to involve even more people while ensuring that veteran Summit participants move on to higher levels of understanding, commitment and action,” says Terez. As one way of meeting this challenge, Terez assembled a participant directory that lists each person’s specific interest areas. All participants have received copies of the “Gold Pages,” as they are called, in order to foster connections beyond the regular Citizens’ Summit gatherings.
The next biggest step has been development of the “Early Childhood Challenge” website, www.takethechallenge.com. Sponsored by Worthington Industries, the site features 100 action ideas to show people the many ways they can help our youngest citizens. It includes inspirational stories, photos from the Citizens’ Summit and amazing facts about early childhood. “This website is our way of reaching beyond the gatherings and beyond our community,” says Terez. “It provides information and inspiration, and the aim is to build awareness, stir action and create a better future for everyone.” Terez and his team also have produced a booklet version of the 100 action ideas, but they’re still seeking a sponsor who wants to join them in their effort to make their community a better place to live.

December '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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