“How can we do better together?” This question posed during Future Ready Collier’s conceptualization remains a guiding principle of the network’s daily work. As a founding partner, the United Way of Collier and the Keys (formerly the United Way of Collier County) has been instrumental in Future Ready Collier’s evolution. Uniquely positioned as both a local grantmaker and direct services provider, the United Way understands the criticality of local connection. The collaboration engendered by and through Future Ready Collier has a compounding effect, enabling the United Way and similar entities to better understand and subsequently address regional need.
Only an hour from downtown Naples, but a world apart, Immokalee is home to Pathways Early Education Center. In operation for more than 56 years, Pathways ably serves its mission of creating educational opportunities for Immokalee’s youngest and most at-need children, with curricula for infant through pre-kindergarten. Pathways is newer to Future Ready Collier than some of their peers, joining in 2018 when Beth Hatch assumed leadership. Their eagerness to contribute has been manifest since day one.
In assessing how to strengthen our communities, collaboration is a frequently raised topic—most commonly relative to its current insufficiency. Local stakeholders may bemoan the lack of cohesiveness, overlapping or unclear missions, competition, and siloing that keeps ideas and action from collective generation. In Southwest Florida, Future Ready Collier is an example of collective action happening in real time, to real effect.
When you think of a community initiative centered primarily on education, your first guesses of likely partners may not include healthcare providers. However, engaging the medical community has been key to pursuing Future Ready Collier’s priorities. Healthcare Network, founded in Immokalee in 1977, today operates approximately 20 practices throughout Collier County, as well as two mobile units and telehealth. As a community health center, their scope encompasses pediatric through adult primary care, dental, women’s health, and integrated behavioral health—a collaborative form of care where medical providers and behavioral health providers work together to address physical mental and emotional needs. It is their ability to interact with families and children daily that underscores Healthcare Network’s contributions.
On any given day during what we might now refer to as “normal” times, the Boys & Girls Club of Collier County would welcome 400 to 500 kids at their Immokalee facility, and 500 to 600 in Naples. The Collier County Boys & Girls Club, like its affiliates nationwide, provides an after-school and summer sanctuary for students. Programs encompass mentorship, academic learning, physical wellbeing, and personal development. The model embraced by the Boys & Girls Club is intended to provide essential supports for children who may for any reason lack access to that foundational structure in their personal and home lives. What’s more, it’s been shown to work.
If an objective of early childhood education is helping kids learn the value of sharing and partnership, then a collective impact model is a real-world extension of that ideological premise. As the nonprofit tasked with distributing state funds for early learning providers regionally, the Early Learning Coalition is an essential partner in fostering the collaboration and momentum that are carrying Future Ready Collier steadily towards real change. Links between early learning and school readiness, through to career training and a thriving economy, are undeniable. The Early Learning Coalition lends expertise and vital community-level connection points to the initiative.