Better Know a Network: Westbrook Children’s Project

The Westbrook Children’s Project was formed in 2009 in Westbrook, Maine, just outside the city of Portland. The network’s founding goals and vision were mainly around high school graduation rates, specifically to have every student in Westbrook graduate high school prepared for their next steps, whether that be post-secondary education, the workforce, or military service. Some initial champions of the Westbrook Children’s Project included the mayor and other local municipal leaders, community organizations, and local business leaders. The network does not just focus on high school students, however, providing programs and services to students of all ages, particularly those with low income. The network has recently undergone structural changes and uncertainty, but continue to do excellent work in their greater Portland community.

One thing that the Westbrook Children’s Project does particularly well is open and consistent communication, both internally and externally. The network can align its workgroups together internally, and remain transparent and accountable to the community externally. The network emphasizes a clear communication strategy as being key to their work; workgroups, agencies, and partners are connected and communicative with each other and the steering committee, allowing for a framework of accountability that keeps everyone in the loop about what work is being done. The network also does not view its workgroups as private and allows community members to participate. This leads to a sense of transparency and trust between the project and its community. These workgroups are productive and effective and provide terrific programs to Westbrook students and unite the community around their success.

Their programs are provided to students of any age in the Westbrook community, mainly those who are low-income. One example is the Summer Food Program. Many students in Westbrook fall into this low-income category; sixty percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches in schools. Over the summer, the schools and their lunch programs go away, but the need does not. The Westbrook Children’s Project provides breakfasts and lunches to any student, up to the age of 18, that would receive these meals in school. This program has a tremendous impact on these students’ lives, and many in the community are brought together by the program through events like picnics and barbecues. An additional program provided by the coalition is the Bookmobile program. The network understands that many kids don’t have the materials to read or practice their reading, particularly over the summer when schools are out of session.  So they provide “literacy kits” to students that include books targeted at their reading level, toys, and writing utensils. The Bookmobile operates during the summer, traveling around town for students to visit, read books, and even take them home with no strings attached. 

Recently the Westbrook Children’s Project has undergone a structural change and they are putting a great deal of effort into ensuring the continuing success of the network. This is another strength of the Project’s work; they have found themselves at an uncertain moment in their history, but are taking steps to reinforce their mission to continue to work for families. The project has been re-evaluating their goals and vision, and are planning a retreat; the retreat is designed to bring everyone in the network’s work-groups together, and any interested community members. Re-evaluating the network and creating a feeling of a fresh start is an essential and healthy step in collective impact work. 

Reflecting on their work and setting new visions indicates that the Westbrook Children’s Project has a bright future ahead of making a positive impact on students in the community. The network has done great work for students in greater Portland, providing them with resources and opportunities to practice literacy and thrive throughout the year. Now at a crossroads moment, the Project hopes to re-evaluate their structure, goals, and mission. The Project is looking forward to increasing its work for the families they serve.