Addressing the Family Unit as a Whole

Guest Correspondence


Together with our donors and nonprofit partners, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has been making substantial strides in what we call our Two Generation (or 2Gen) approach, inspired by Ascend at the Aspen Institute. This approach creates opportunities for and addresses the needs of both vulnerable children and their parents simultaneously to elevate the socio-economic status of a family unit as a whole.

Early on in this work, we recognized that we couldn’t tackle all these issues alone. We strategized how we could bring the 2Gen ideology to organizations that were working in similar spheres as well as convene these organizations together along with national thought leaders and practitioners who are making significant strides in 2Gen efforts.

Last spring, we were proud to host a 2Gen Summit that we brought to Sarasota, which saw hundreds of local nonprofit, private and public professional leaders becoming engaged in learning more about the two-generation approach. The summit focused on three of the four main components of the 2Gen strategy: economic supports, educational opportunities and social capital.

Recently, we saw an opportunity to build off the momentum of the summit while also addressing the vital remaining topic of the 2Gen approach, health and well-being.  Two weeks ago we held a follow-up forum with three nationally-recognized leaders in early childhood development. The panel, who were also all Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows included: Dr. Sarah Enos Watamura, associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver; Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health; and Dr. Darius Tandon, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.  Additionally, we are so proud of our very own John Annis, senior vice president of Community Investment, who is an Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow.

During their time in Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Fellows discussed with a number of community leaders, social workers, teachers and program managers their research in early childhood brain development, maternal depression and early literacy through a series of speaking events and a well-attended Hot Topics forum presented by the Herald-Tribune Media Group. We were delighted Ascend at the Aspen Institute live-streamed the Hot Topics to over 1,000 people across the country.  The Fellows also made a number of site visits to various programs at local elementary schools and nonprofit organizations that are working in addressing issues that children from low-income households encounter.

Each stressed the importance of focusing on the family unit as a whole and providing early intervention when parents are struggling with issues that affect their child’s learning. Their research also emphasized the importance of starting literacy work as early as possible. This message was an important reminder and source of guidance for us as we continue our own work—it is never too early to promote literacy and provide new parents with the resources they need.

While it may seem to be common sense, oftentimes, vulnerable families living in poverty either don't know the best practices when it comes to addressing their child's needs or they do not have the resources or accessibility to provide themselves and their children with the support they need. There are also often challenges that arise which impede a parent’s relationship with their child which is crucial to a young child’s learning, such as juggling multiple jobs, communication barriers and mental health issues like maternal depression. The truth is, there are dramatic developmental differences between children and these differences often fall squarely along socio-economic lines.

A bold approach is needed to balance the diverse needs of families with community resources, and we will lead this effort by continuing to measure outcomes. We’ve found it is essential that community leaders coalesce to forge innovative and collaborative partnerships that build sustainable solutions for our families around reading on grade level, parent engagement and education, as well as mental health and social support for families. The road ahead requires discipline and perseverance from all parties as we work across systems and agencies to foster effective 2Gen programs that can ultimately change the trajectory for our families and create cycles of opportunity. A bright future of hope and opportunity for our community and its families is finally within reach.

Roxie Jerde is president of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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