Activating Change With Great Expectations: MDC

In 2015, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust brought in Durham-based MDC to serve as an ‘Activating Agency’ and support the Trust’s Great Expectations initiative in Forsyth County.

An interview with Julie Mooney, Senior Program Director, MDC

Who is MDC?

For nearly 50 years, MDC has helped organizations and communities close the gaps that separate people from opportunity—in North Carolina and across the country. An essential part of our philosophy is that paths to opportunity and equity can be cleared by removing the social, financial, and educational barriers that make it harder for those left behind. While we began as a NC-based organization (formerly the NC Manpower Development Corporation), over the years, MDC changed our name just to MDC and broadened into an effective force for overall economic progress in the South.  We work in three areas: people, places, and systems, often serving as both a convener and broker for collaboration between and among educators, workforce specialists, and civic and business leaders, as well as grassroots community leaders, and the public at large.

Why was MDC selected to support the Trust’s Great Expectations work?

MDC has a strong track record of working in Southern communities, typically in partnership with funders, to facilitate and support the complex work of place-based systems change that advances economic opportunity for people and families.  Also, our commitment to equity is strongly aligned with the very strong guiding principles that the Trust has outlined for Great expectations, which include the need for respect for all children and families, the importance of understanding of history and traditions of diverse cultures, and a belief that communities are obligated to address challenges of families in poverty.

Great Expectations is a wide ranging and comprehensive effort to improve the lives of children and families in Forsyth County, and thanks to our experience, expertise, and networks, MDC is well positioned to put the Trust’s plans into action.

What is Great Expectations?

The goal of Great Expectations is to ensure that Forsyth County’s young children—particularly those living in financially disadvantaged families—meet age-appropriate developmental milestones during the first five years of life, are prepared for kindergarten, and leave kindergarten ready for learning and life success. As a result of the Trust’s 10 to 15-year Great Expectations investment, at least 90 percent of all financially disadvantaged children living in Forsyth County between the ages of zero and six will:

 Reach age-appropriate developmental milestones from birth to entry into 1st grade;

 Enter kindergarten healthy and ready for school; and

 Graduate from kindergarten healthy and with the knowledge, skills, and behaviors expected for success in 1st grade.

To succeed, Great Expectations requires a long-term, comprehensive effort. In addition to investing in MDC as the activating agency, to help ensure the success of Great Expectations, the Trust is partnering with key stakeholders, including families, providers, organizations and systems, as well as work with two, or even three, generations at once to ensure that parents and/or grandparent caregivers are better able to provide a healthy and nurturing environment for young children.

What is an activating agency?

The Trust recognizes that the scale and vision of Great Expectations requires management support and new partnerships with organizations and institutions outside of its current network. Because the Trust’s staff is small, foundation leadership knew additional assistance was needed to ensure it had the capacity and expertise to successfully implement Great Expectations. MDC excels at coordinating efforts like this one and setting the table, so to speak, with the local leaders and organizations necessary to make the Trust’s vision for Great Expectations a reality.

We’re working closely with Trust staff, and we will help extend their reach and turn the thoughtful plans the Trust has developed to guide Great Expectations into a series and sequence of activities to achieve its goals.

. This will include:

 Strengthening organizations and providing new tools to professionals providing direct services to young children;

 Identifying systems change opportunities ripe for change, allowing the community to make bigger leaps sooner, rather than relying on progress via just the sum of the parts of services underway;

 Building new alliances between public and private sectors; and

 Engaging different voices and bringing more low-wealth parents and other caregivers to the table to provide input to program design and systems change.

Why is Great Expectations important for Forsyth County?

Research shows that helping kids reach age-appropriate developmental milestones before they enter first grade is key to keeping them on a healthy educational trajectory, which is why the Trust’s Great Expectations investments are designed to help ensure every child in Forsyth County enters kindergarten healthy and ready for school.

I’ve been working with funders my whole career, and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust understands that long-term investments are critical to making real change in communities on issues as complex as these. This understanding is not unprecedented, but it is rare.

The Trust also recognizes that communities have an obligation to address the challenges of families in poverty and that place-based change requires partnership and the spirit of inclusion, and these principles are built into Great Expectations.