Better Know a Network: Building Our Future Kenosha

Building Our Future Kenosha (BOF) was founded in 2016 by Kenosha County to align work among different organizations and sectors towards the goal of improving educational outcomes for children in Kenosha County. In 2015, before Building Our Future Kenosha was the network that it is today, the business community in Kenosha County began having conversations with the community envisioning a collective approach to issues and resources in Kenosha. These community engagement discussions, named Foresight 20/20, were led by the Kenosha County Executive, Kenosha Area Business Alliance President, and the United Way CEO, and they started to bring together different sectors to specifically focus on the educational success of youth in Kenosha County. Building on the conversations started by Foresight 20/20, Building Our Future uses the Strive Together framework to follow the progress of children from cradle to career. Within this framework, Building Our Future chose to focus their efforts on Community Engagement and Kindergarten Readiness initially, and they have seen many successes in the past couple of years as they have recently moved into the sustaining gateway of the Strive Together Theory of Action.

Building Our Future Kenosha has increasingly focused on the importance of community engagement and working with community members to align their goals and focus their impact. Building Our Future Kenosha works with two targeted neighborhoods and the schools within those neighborhoods to narrow their focus on improving educational outcomes for those areas. Following their emphasis on community engagement, BOF has monthly meetings with these neighborhoods as well as collaborative action networks up and running. Furthermore, their leadership table makes a point to engage in community events, whether that is presenting data at local group meetings or just participating as audience members. Through these community engagement efforts, BOF listens to the community members’ wants and needs to cooperate and coordinate their goals to serve the community best.

Not only is Building Our Future inviting community members to the table, but they are listening to their needs and trying to find ways to address them. This community engagement piece plays a role in how Building Our Future approaches all of its initiatives. For example, Smart Beginnings, their kindergarten readiness program, has begun to address issues surrounding access to childcare, a problem that community members and parents have brought to their attention. They are strategizing ways to prioritize this need of the community within their kindergarten readiness program, in addition to their already existing strategies and interventions to close the achievement gap in early childhood.

Furthermore, Building Our Future has continued to engage with the community, in addition to more frequently collecting data, to hone in on their equity work, specifically focusing on naming and addressing racial equity in Kenosha County. In January 2020, BOF and 40 of their community partners organized a two-day community training facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute (REI) to discuss race and racism in the United States, and where Kenosha County outcomes stand. As a result, the school district in the area is working with REI to have a workshop with school administrators and supervisors discussing racial equity in the school district. BOF is starting the conversation to deliberately approach all of their work with this racial equity lens, seeking to improve outcomes across the board.

These are the beginning steps in Building Our Future’s goal of creating a constructive conversation surrounding racial equity. As Building Our Future has just moved into the sustaining phase of the StriveTogether theory of action, they are understanding of the time that it takes to create an impact in the community collectively. Rather than trying to move faster, to implement programs quickly that might be inefficient, BOF is looking into how to utilize the already existing resources and programs best to improve their reach. They are just beginning to create strategies in response to community needs, whether that is with Smart Beginnings or the conversations surrounding racial equity. Ultimately, looking towards the future, Building Our Future Kenosha hopes to fully realize the work they are starting, by paying attention to the data and areas of focus, coordinating its resources, and taking action in response to the community to continue to work towards the improvement of educational outcomes in Kenosha County, from cradle to career.