How are we still Communities In Schools

when we’re not in school buildings?

That was the question we found ourselves asking in March 2020. When school buildings closed, student and family needs swelled to a scale we’d never seen before—almost overnight—and our affiliate network was facing hard questions. At the state office, we didn’t have all the answers… but we did have a network of people with strong community ties, passion to serve kids, and countless hours of experience solving tough problems. So, we started building solutions with our network’s strongest asset: the people.

The state office focused our areas of expertise and began to convene meetings with leaders and staff across the network who could share their challenges and learn together while we figured out the new reality. We worked to address the tough questions and generated solutions that took off across the state and benefitted thousands of students. Executive Directors met to share new ways of working in the community rather than in school buildings and discussed how to manage and maintain school district relationships during these challenging times. Program Managers met to brainstorm new local partnerships, raise team morale, and share virtual and in-person strategies to reach students at home. Resource Development staff met to address the pandemic’s newfound economic pressures: how to raise money virtually when in-person events were cancelled and how to meet urgent student and family needs while fundraising for core CIS services. We amplified our state office policy work to access CARES act funding for our network and stay on top of state mandates to ensure the safety of affiliate staff and students. As soon as we tackled one challenge, we seemed to face another. But we were also seeing something amazing happen across the state—as quickly as problems came up, affiliates were mobilizing, developing new strategies, strengthening community partnerships, and serving more and more students and families.

Then, in the spring of 2020, the nation erupted into a second pandemic: a reckoning around racial injustice. The death of George Floyd and other members of the Black community incited deep sadness, anger, and fear in the communities we serve and within our own network. At the state office, we called in experts on racial equity to build our network’s collective capacity to do social justice work. We applied a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens in conversations with affiliates to help advance equitable practices in their organizations and services. In collaboration with affiliates, we also developed a unified DEI statement to guide our network’s ongoing work with students and the unjust systems that impact them. In order to build a “new normal” that includes educational justice, we know it is critical to center DEI in everything we do so that students don’t have to overcome barriers like systemic racism alone.

At the state office, we exist to support the efforts of our local affiliates. We work to build a strong, sustainable network that can serve kids no matter what storms we find ourselves weathering together. As we believe in the strength and resiliency of children and youth, we believe in the strength and resiliency of our affiliates. In these times, we are proud and grateful to be part of a network that has become even stronger through this adversity and continues to surround students so that they can have a safe today and a successful tomorrow.

– Susan Richards, State Director