Evanston Cradle to Career, an organization created to address inequity in the community by pulling together resources from partner organizations throughout Evanston, offered a long list of highlights at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting in its request for an annual contribution from the city.
The organization draws on resources from more than 40 partner organizations, including the city, the two school districts, McGaw YMCA and Northwestern University.
In the past year, the organization, known as EC2C, has sponsored an anti-racism summit and facilitated affinity and anti-racism groups, launched the first Advocates for Action virtual community radio series – and those are only a few examples of its involvement.
The group also made a large pivot, playing a leading role distributing $180,000 in relief funds in the community. But amid all that activity, Council members on Oct. 11 were trying to get handle on the organization’s central mission.
“We continue to give funding, and we don’t have an idea – aside from the one night they come for the money – what they do,” said Council member Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, who raised concerns about “mission drift.”
“We only get a report once a year when they come in for funding,” Fleming said. “It’s not like they go through the Mental Health Board and [newly created] Social Services Commission.”
For those organizations, she said, “There’s an application process, they have a liaison [to the city], there is [ongoing] reporting on numbers and activities.”
Fleming, in her second term on the Council, expressed the wish that “we kind of reassess what they’re doing.
“Maybe they need a new kind of mission [or] mission statement,” she said. “And, as a city, I just don’t know how we could continue to set a precedent continuing to give away $50,000 without any accountability.”
Other Council members also spoke about tying greater accountability to granting the agency’s request for an annual $50,000 payment.
Sixth Ward Council member Thomas Suffredin suggested a memorandum of understanding with EC2C would give the city some way of measuring a return on its investment.
‘No overnight change’
Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, spoke of the communitywide effort, which included the school districts and the faith community, that led to the establishment of the organization.
“This was a long-term investment to address the systemic issues that we have,” Braithwaite said. “We understand that system change doesn’t happen overnight.”
He spoke of the group’s ability to influence the city’s youth: “I don’t know how you say ‘No’ to that,” he said.
Fifth Ward Council member Bobby Burns, a community organizer before joining the Council, also spoke about the group’s special role. “When I first learned of Cradle to Career years ago, it [the concept] really talked about reimagining systems through the framework of equity,” Burns said.
“And I don’t want to lose sight of that,” he said, “because to me there’s that gap – we really don’t have one central organization that is looking at how effective we in Evanston together are supporting people from birth to career.”
On the other hand, Burns suggested, the group has to do a better job of backing up its achievements.
“We need to know what the goal is, what are you trying to accomplish,” he said, addressing the group’s representative as much as fellow Council members at the meeting, held both in person and virtually.
For instance, when the group speaks about the great work it is doing, Burns said, “I would love to see in a report how that is being done.”
He said he would support the group’s request for payment now, but that in a year from now would expect “to see where we are.”
Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, suggested the Council could set expectations with this year’s request, drawing up a memorandum of understanding with the organization, “where goals and outcomes are set out, and then we can really assess it.”
Council members agreed to the suggestion, pushing back action on Cradle to Career’s funding request until their Oct. 25 meeting.
Meanwhile, at the Council meeting as well as the Administration & Public Works Committee session earlier, a number of speakers, including EC2C staff, spoke about the group’s efforts.
Tackling the ‘tougher issues’
Addressing the A&PW Committee, Maricar Ramos, EC2C’s Executive Director, said, “Generally speaking, we are a collective-impact organization with 40-plus partners in Evanston, that are really all working together on some larger tougher issues for our families and our communities. And the idea is one organization can’t do it on its own.
“So we’re doing it in conjunction with each other,” Ramos continued. “We’re tackling things like the academic achievement gap, literacy, kindergarten readiness and all those things and we are doing everything that we can, so that, by the age of 23, all Evanston young adults have the opportunity for the same level of success, regardless of race, creed or color.”
This past year, she said, “We pivoted to really address what the community needed from us, so one of the main things we did is we distributed over $180,000 in COVID readiness funds; we provided funds for personal pantries; we did direct payments for undocumented families; [and] provided grants to our nonprofit partners to make sure that they stayed afloat during the pandemic. And so we really tried to listen and pay attention to what the community told us they needed.”
Kimberly Holmes-Ross, the group’s Community Engagement Manager, spoke of the virtual Community Coffee weekly radio series the group launched “right here in Evanston.”
“It was birthed from our student quarantine series that we put on during the pandemic broadcast over Facebook Live, as well as worldwide on the radio station,” she told A&PW Committee members. “It’s a global broadcast, so it’s a really, really neat platform. We have such topics as mental health, reviving our youth, back to school during COVID, anti-bullying, anti-racism and of course, equity.”
Judah Bempong, a student at Niles West High School, spoke of participating in a golf program for minority youth that was made possible through the agency.
EC2C gave a grant to a senior in high school “to teach young children like myself how to play golf,” he told Council members. “And it seems like a small thing, but for me, it gave me so many opportunities when as a Black kid, I never thought I would ever get the chance to do that.”
Next Friday, he said, “I’m going to a state championship course to play golf. And I never thought I would ever be in that position.”