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What’s The Big Idea?

                                                                                    By Tim Kean

A carpenter standing behind a table in the school gym says to a nine year old “This is a picture of a house that I’m building, pointing to some tools on the table he says “these are some of the tools that I’m using”. Then pointing to a certificate he says “This is how I got the training to learn how to do this kind of work”. He says, “I like what I do, it pays well and someone will have a nice place to live when I’m finished. Go ahead, pick up any tool you’d like and see what it feels like”. He might also say, “I lived next door to a carpenter when I was a kid and he let me work with him when I was old enough”.

At the next table, a young woman dressed in her work uniform had a similar conversation with a young girl in the 5th grade about what it’s like to work as an EMT. She has some equipment on the table and offered to let the girl pick it up as she describes some of the ways she helps some very sick people get the immediate medical attention they need. She shows the 5th grader the certificate she got when her training was completed. She has a picture of her and an elderly woman using a walker, which she was able to help who had fallen at home and needed to be rushed to the hospital.

The Second Harvest school initiative has been rebranded “The Big Idea” and we are in the rollout phase with all the schools that have connected with us as school is getting ready to start. We will begin our 4th year with this initiative in August. By the end of this year’s spring semester we had partnered with 29 schools in 8 counties and this fall that number will move up to 35 schools. This initiative is based on relationship building between the families of the school and the school staff. Over time, this positive experience in relationship building has led to increases in student attendance, decreases in incidences of negative student behavior, more parental engagement in school activities, just to name a few.

Ideally, the stage is set with upbeat music playing, greeters at the check-in table, a few community resources at tables to talk with the families such as a healthcare provider, a financial institution, the library or other ready-to- engage providers. A food distribution is also provided. A theme for the evening that might include a focus on book fair, a carnival, movie night or any other creative idea that the school may organize. The opportunity to engage kids and their families with a couple of career-focused interactions each month can be the seeds that plant a career desire in a child’s mind. All this can help a child to consider what they find interesting as a possible career and discover the training path to get there. It could be a post-secondary degree, an employment certification or an apprenticeship.

The Big Idea is designed for kids to dream big about their future stories, for families to encounter resources and relationship with a welcoming school staff that are partners with them to help foster big dreams. Schools viewed as welcoming, safe, fun and nurturing are what attracts and builds community. Our role is to shorten the line of need by providing kids the opportunity to become self-sustaining adults as they grow into “The Big Idea” future they vision as a child. Contact Sunni Matters, our leader of this initiative at 765-287-8698 if you would like to play a role in a child’s future by sharing what you do.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies, programs and 29 schools provide food assistance and relationship building to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Everyone Needs a Future Story

Planning is underway for our next Forward S.T.E.P.S. graduation that will happen on August 29th here at Second Harvest. If you have never attended one, please put it on your calendar, you could be moved to tears. We have eight families that are currently participating in the Velocity training portion of this total family experience. During the graduation, these adults will be describing their “future story” as part of the outcome of this engagement. Last year we had thirteen family “leaders” who earned raises and four who became new first-time home owners as part of their hard work and perseverance.  There are about fifty people who are attending the weekly evening meeting and meals. We have a strong Youth Enrichment program that engages the families’ children of all ages (0-18), who are a dynamic part of this work. The kids have taken a trip to Ball State recently to get a first-hand look at a major university and engage with some of the faculty. This experience is meaningful for the kids as they continue to consider, discuss and plan their “future story”.

If all we have ever been able to experience as a child is to live in the tyranny of the moment and those moments are dominated by trauma, we may not be able to see past today or even consider the future relevant. Think of it as waking up every day in the “emergency room” of life as a normal activity. Daily questions could be – Will I have a bed to sleep in tonight? Will the electricity be on when we get home? Will there be anything to eat tonight? Will I witness any violence inside or outside my house again tonight? Will I witness more addiction in my family or in the neighborhood? With questions like these or others looming in a child’s head there may be a connection as to why they struggle concentrating in school, struggle relating to a system not designed to work with these challenges or think for a moment about what they could be when they grow up. Lack of a “future story” can keep someone from dreaming, thinking or working toward anything more than what is in front of them every day. Schools do an amazing job with what they’ve been given to work with and my hat is off to the social workers, but it takes the whole family’s engagement along with the community to fully leverage the opportunities with these kids.

It makes no difference whether the adults in the family are part of our Activation, Velocity or Momentum training, the whole family can engage because the Youth Enrichment program is offered all year. Having a number of highly motivated AmeriCorps volunteers to assist with our kids is a true blessing. Kids are able to experience age-appropriate topics that tap into their creative juices with an outlet for expression. This year we have started three clubs as well, the STEAM Club, Reading Club and Spanish Club. We have a young man who is now in college earning a four year degree. Currently someone is in JROTC in high school, another is having success in track and field and learning to code. One has been selected to travel to Europe and visit eleven countries next summer because they excel in the high school band. Other successes are in the making as the younger ones are seeing some great role models that are just a few years older.

This initiative is currently in Delaware County, but we are now looking at the opportunities for expansion of this impactful work in other counties we serve as well. Forward S.T.E.P.S. brings a proven game-changer for motivated families who want to make the decisions to have a brighter “future story”.

Tim Kean is the President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana. The Second Harvest Food Bank network of 115-member agencies, programs and 29 schools provide food assistance and relationship building to more than 65,000 low-income people facing daily instability in Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash Counties.

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Childhood Brain Development Must Be Fed

The new Map the Meal Gap annual report was released on May 4th. This is a national report provided by Feeding America, researched by the Neilson Co. and funded by Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett. This report lists food insecurity data by county in every state for the total population and for children. The new report shows another drop in the food insecurity numbers in all of our 8 county service area. The new report shows a total of just over 65,000 people in this 8 county region which is down from over 67,000 the year before. The child food insecurity number dropped from 19,580 to 18,620. Even with this noticeable decline, that number is still approximately 1 in 7 people in our communities and 1 in 5 children. The downward trend has been continuing since the end of the Great Recession when it was over 80,000 people. Barring a meltdown of the economy, I expect to see the number next year drop again. The economy continues to improve, more jobs, less unemployment, employed people migrating upward within their company or moving to a better job with another company all seems so simple, but it’s not.

One of the reasons that it’s not so simple can be that many who struggle just aren’t prepared for job opportunities when they present themselves. This is not just a technical training deficiency, but could also be a lack of knowledge concerning basic soft skills that can trip up a new hire on day 1 or day 2 that prevents them from seeing day 5 on the job. How does someone acquire or develop these soft skills if they weren’t taught at home? If they were taught at home and the child is now an adult, the disconnect could be from the circle of “friends” who may not have much interest in, or place much value in being able to navigate through simple communication that doesn’t offend people.

Parents who struggle often raise kids who will struggle when they become adults. A statistic, but I can’t quote the source that has been shared in some of our trainings offered through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative says that if a child remains under-resourced for more than 8 years, the child is 40% more likely to be under-resourced as an adult. We all have habits influenced by our upbringing that can help or hurt us as we grow to adulthood. Many of us will pass those habits, beliefs and interpersonal skills on to our children whether we intend to or not.

I recently learned that 80% of our complete brain development occurs by age 3. By the time a child starts 1st grade, if they are significantly behind in the areas of development that enable them to learn at the 1st grade level, they may never develop the skill set to learn at the rate that is needed to progress in school successfully. If a child grows up in a negative environment surrounded by yelling, fighting, or illegal behavior, what chance does that child have to successfully navigate through school and become a self-sufficient adult? There are some remarkable exceptions that can be pointed out, but they are just that – remarkable exceptions. Regardless of the money in our pocket, everything we say and do is watched and many times emulated. Living in this neck of the woods is a wonderful experience and an awesome responsibility we can’t take too lightly. Our children are learning every day, the question is what will we teach them today?

by Tim Kean

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Dogs Can Teach Us a Lot

We have two black labs. Ten year old Stella is crippled and eleven year old Macy is blind. They’re both the most loving dogs we’ve ever had. Each has their challenges but they’re doing the best they can. Stella had a hip surgery several years ago and has an enlarged knee with arthritis. She has a funny little waddle when she walks. Macy has always been pretty healthy, but developed a sight problem about 4 years ago and has very limited sight now. She wants to spend as much time inside now as she can. She walks very cautiously and bumps into a lot of things throughout the day. Both approach life with many similarities but with some very specific differences.

As my wife and I live with them, we both agree they have been a blessing to us, but do require different types of interaction. I recently began thinking about how similar I can be to both dogs. Like Macy, there are topics that I could probably navigate through in conversation with someone, but limited knowledge would make me hesitant and cautious. A blind spot on the topic would leave me feeling a bit paralyzed or set me up for crashing into someone with a viewpoint that may cause hurt feelings or even break the relationship. I also sense that others may experience the same potential negative engagement, but it doesn’t keep them from saying whatever pops in their head without much regard to how it may be received. As I have the opportunity to engage lots of people in this role, I frequently hear statements from people that are clearly coming from a blind spot. If someone has never experienced abundant resources or the lack of resources, it may seem to be a simple subject that should have a quick and simple conclusion. It is neither. Judgement about others is very easy to express and hard to retract. We can and do teach it to our children whether it’s intentional or not.

Like Stella, I may have my sight intact, but struggle with mobility and pain. I may be resentful of what I see going on around me when it feels like everyone else is getting ahead and I’m missing out. I may assume that people are taking shortcuts to gain an unfair advantage at my expense because they are just unwilling to work as hard as necessary. The real question may be more about whether I’m willing to try harder than how other people are progressing. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own poor work ethic to explain my limited upward mobility. Work ethic is a very interesting topic for conversation. Everyone I’ve met has a viewpoint on what work ethic means and can cite examples of both good and poor ones they’ve encountered.  Someone once told me that my work ethic is what I am willing to do when no one is watching. Work ethic is also something we teach our children whether intentional or not. I see what appears to be both good and poor examples of work ethic that really don’t have much relevance to how much money a person has or how much they may be struggling to make ends meet, but without facts can potentially lead me to judgement.

Just as dogs love unconditionally, I know I’m called to do that as well. I’ve never experienced a day that our dogs didn’t lavish love over me when I get home. Dogs have figured out a way to keep life simple and uncluttered. Granted, they don’t have to figure out a way to improve the bottom line for their investors or shorten the line of need in their community, but they can and do bring joy to the people they are with and that’s an example from which we can all learn.

 by Tim Kean

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Shortening the Line of Need

Our overall goal is to shorten the line of need. Second Harvest Food Bank does this by a variety of programs and engagements with the community at large. We have grown the holistic approach to our work since making a conscience pro-active decision to broaden our focus in 2015. As challenging as it may sound, we decided that only re-distributing food, along with some other perennial outreach efforts, was not enough for us to focus our energy on every day. Since then, we have evolved to become an organization that is relationship-focused in our new initiatives and it has affected every aspect of who we are and what we do.

Our school based relationship initiative, soon to be re-branded, is connecting parents with school staffs in 29 schools spread over our 8 county service area. This dynamic initiative is designed to positively impact the child when parents and school staffs are building positive connections. We are beginning to secure additional providers, organizations and businesses who have the desire to reach out to the families with additional engagement opportunities in which families can benefit. We are also in the season of data collection with this initiative that will be useful to guide our strategies for the future and provide some great feedback to our funding partners. This generational, long-term strategy is showing strong promise that kids are making progress in improved attendance and soft-skill development. We have our sights set on adding 15 more schools over the next 3 years.

Working with the A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative is our medium-term strategy. While working families have seen some recent job growth opportunities by a stronger economy, there is no quick path to self-sustainability. Employers tell us that entry level job turnover is high and drives up the cost of operation, not to mention frustration with possibly missing some growth opportunities for the business. Working with families in relationship-building sessions to help identify what or who is holding them from making progress to a life style that has less stress and more stability is very rewarding and challenging work. The recruitment of community volunteers to form intentional mutually-accountable relationships with A.L.I.C.E. families has paid dividends for all who are participating. This engagement can be for 18-36 months. Some wonderful success stories were shared at the latest graduation ceremony held in February. We intend to expand this initiative into an additional county over the next 3 years.

Senior citizens, (60 years and up) are the fastest growing segment of the food insecure population. Many factors come into play. Multi-generational households, grandparents raising grandkids, not being financially prepared for retirement, rising costs of healthcare and prescriptions, and simply people living longer who may have out-lived their resources are some of the factors driving this trend. We currently have 5 sites that we supply some supplemental food assistance for seniors specifically. The program is called the Senior Safety Net. This outreach is monthly and is approximately 30 pounds of food with a heavy emphasis on fresh produce that seniors can use to help them stretch their resources for the month. We are planning to expand this outreach with an additional 5 more sites over the next 3 years.

In direct food assistance, our 115 agency partners over the 8 counties are the front line defense in addressing food insecure families. Many dedicated volunteers have donated their time for decades and continue to play a vital role in reaching struggling families. The agencies have become more integrated in their approach to see their operations continue. Several have become more proficient grant writers and marketers to engage community support. Our Tailgate Distribution has also recently expanded with several more distributions recently and more planned for the future as we try to ease some of the disruption caused by the government shutdown. That may sound like old news, but it takes longer for a struggling family to recover from disruption than those with more resources or the government.

The average age of a person seeking food assistance is 52 years old. From our recent Hunger Study data, we also know that 36% have had to choose between food and utilities in the last 6 months. 75% identify as White, 18% as Black and 3% as Hispanic. Educational attainment is spread over the food insecure population as well. 21% have less than a high school diploma, 47% have a high school diploma or a GED and 31% have a certificate, associate degree, some college or 4 year degree. We also know from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap Study that approximately 30% are working and make too much money for any government assistance.

So for us, providing help for today and hope for tomorrow is as essential as a fire department that puts out fires along with a strong fire prevention initiative. One without the other leaves a lot to be desired for the well-being of the community. 

by Tim Kean

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