The longtime executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career, Sheila Merry, has retired – for a second time. As of Nov. 21, Kimberly Holmes-Ross is juggling both the director of Community Engagement and interim executive director positions.
Although this recent change has kept her busy, Cradle to Career isn’t rushing its search for a new executive director, Holmes-Ross said.
“We’ll take as long as it takes,” she said. “We just want the right person.”
Cradle to Career hopes to hire a permanent executive director in early 2023. It’s working with the Alma Advisory Group to identify the best candidates for the position. Cradle to Career is already interviewing “some amazing candidates,” Holmes-Ross said.
The organization announced Holmes-Ross’ new interim post in in its newsletter earlier this month.
“Kimberly is extremely talented, and also possesses the administrative and leadership skills that have helped support the success of EC2C over the last several years,” the newsletter said. “She has grown into this position, and we look forward to her continued leadership as Interim Executive Director.”
Camila Vick, who handles administrative communications, has been taking on some tasks like assisting with the newsletter while Cradle to Career is short-staffed.
EC2C expands its focus
Evanston Cradle to Career (EC2C) is a relatively young organization that’s taking on new challenges as it seeks new leadership.
Cradle to Career partners with local organizations, such as the City of Evanston, Northwestern University, Connections for the Homeless and the YMCA, to address social problems in the city.
Kindergarten, college and career readiness have been the focus of EC2C since it began, and recently it’s added an initiative to address health inequities, specifically targeting health issues that affect Black and brown families in the Fifth Ward.
EC2C has an annual budget of approximately $750,000, Holmes-Ross said. Contributions from more than 40 partners make up a third of the nonprofit’s budget, with United Way as the organization’s largest funder, she said.
Merry, the founding executive director of the nonprofit, retired for the first time in May 2020, but came back to the post after her successor Maricar Ramos stepped down as executive director in April 2022, Holmes-Ross said. Merry’s decision to retire again in November wasn’t sudden, it was the agreed timeframe, Holmes-Ross said.
During her stint with Cradle to Career this year, Merry brought Paul Schmitz, a collective impact expert and founder of Leading Inside Out LLC, on board as a consultant. Schmitz is a senior adviser for the Collective Impact Forum, which provides resources to help communities align their organizations and institutions to achieve collective equity goals.
New health initiative
Under Schmitz’s guidance, Cradle to Career has introduced its new health initiative and revamped two long-standing initiatives. The 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs inspired Cradle to Career to set a new initiative to focus on social determinants of health.
The team addressing this initiative is working to identify strategies for improving the conditions of Black and brown children, especially those in the Fifth Ward. Some ideas include supporting mental health resources and the guaranteed income pilot that launched earlier this month.
The kindergarten readiness action team is placing an emphasis on supporting parents so that they have everything they need to prepare their children to start school.
This initiative is looking to create a parent support program at Family Focus for those with children up to 5 years old. It’s also partnering with Erie Family Health Center to include developmental screening during well-baby visits.
College and career readiness
The college and career readiness action team, also called the adult life action team, is working on showing students routes to livable wage careers outside of a four-year college degree.
The team is developing connections with Oakton Community College and identifying job experience opportunities with help from the Mayor’s Employment Advisory Council.
Just 75% of Evanston Township High School students enroll in college within a year after graduation, according to the ETHS 2022-2023 school profile. And the school’s 2020-2021 Achievement Report said only 59% of ETHS grads completed a postsecondary degree within six years.
“So pretending that our kids are going to college, yet knowing that they’re not completing it is not doing anybody any good,” Merry said in a previous interview with the RoundTable.
Although EC2C seeks to highlight alternate routes to success, it still supports college as being an option for all students.
EC2C is working with the Evanston Community Foundation to start a college savings account for every kindergarten student in Evanston. Research from the Evanston Community Foundation shows that children that have as little as $500 in a college savings account are three times more likely to graduate from high school and four times more likely to graduate from college, Merry said in a previous interview.
“So it’s about giving people some real choices, and some things that they can accomplish and feel good about,” Holmes-Ross said.