Community partner breakfast in Minnesota: eat, play, connect

City Connects is growing in Minnesota. But the program isn’t just getting bigger — serving over 2,000 students across 10 schools with 13,284 services — it’s also getting better connected.

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The heart of City Connects’ model is connecting children to services. But again and again, we’ve seen that this also means forging connections among adults. That might mean connecting an immigrant parent to a health provider or having a funder hear from a principal.

To illustrate and capitalize on the power of these connections, Minnesota Program Manager Laurie Acker organized a community partner breakfast where she skipped the usual PowerPoint presentation and instead asked all the attendees to play a version of the classic kids’ game, Connect Four, a name that also acknowledges City Connects’ fourth anniversary in Minnesota.

Acker put color-coded stickers on everyone’s name tags. Then she set a timer for 30 minutes and asked everyone at the breakfast to talk to at least four other people with four different colored stickers.

The goal, Acker explained, was for attendees to learn about the other partners that make up City Connects.

The color-coding scheme:

yellow for school staff

orange for funders

blue for community partners who provide academic support

red for community partners who provide family support

pink for community partners who provide health support, and

green for community partners who provide social/emotional

So principals could talk to funders, and community partners could talk to principals, funders, and each other.

Acker explains, “We have a vast array of community partners but the principals and other schools do not know all of them. Not only was the goal of having everyone make new connections met, but many people wanted to continue meeting others in the room after the game ended.”

Liz Ramsey, the Principal at Risen Christ, who attended the event said:

“I met school counselors, university professors who specialize in helping linguistically and culturally diverse students, before- and after-school program developers, and pastors who supported the program. I connected with the other principals who are using City Connects which allowed me to plug into best practices and expand our services with great programming. All that and a free breakfast to boot!”

Manisha Bharti, Chief of Strategy & Programs at the GHR Foundation, added:

“What a wonderful opportunity it was to meet so many of the diverse partners that City Connects links with our area schools. It was clear we all shared the belief that addressing the complex and interrelated needs of scholars is one of the most effective ways to maximize student outcomes. That’s why GHR Foundation is a proud supporter of City Connects and invites others join us in this important, collective effort.”

As City Connects continues to grow and thrive in Minnesota — and across the country — we know that forging stronger, more productive connections among adults will create richer environments for promoting student success.

As Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, often says, “creating a network of support makes a difference for children. This is an important part of building the proverbial village around the child.”

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