On this monthly radio program, The Children’s Foundation President and CEO Larry Burns talks to community, government and business leaders about issues related to children’s health and wellness.
Guests for this discussion were Ann Kalass, CEO, Starfish Family Services; Tom Lewand, CEO, Marygrove Conservancy; and Shannon Wilson, Director of Medicaid Outreach and Quality, Priority Health. Here’s a summary of the show that aired October 27, 2020; listen to the entire episode, and archived episodes, at yourchildrensfoundation.org/caring-for-kids.
Larry Burns: Please give us an update on Starfish.
Ann Kalass: We are excited about the educational work that’s happening on the Marygrove campus and to be the early childhood provider for that. The second program I’d like to update you on is our Nurse-Family Partnership, a home visitation program that partners nurses with first- time pregnant mothers to help ensure great birth outcomes. We’re helping both parent and child thrive.
Burns: How has COVID-19 impacted Starfish?
Kalass: I remember, very gratefully, a phone call I received in March from The Children’s Foundation, asking what we needed. Soon after that call we had additional resources and all the flexibility needed in our partnership to do the right thing for children at that moment. Philanthropy has played a huge role in supporting Starfish families.
What the pandemic has looked like is a lot of stress and anxiety, both for Starfish families and for our employees. We work in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. In mid-March, we reinvented ourselves as a remote operation. We reopened as a telehealth agency, so that meant getting technology, equipment and data plans to families and finding new ways to connect with families. Children have lost so many of the connections that they had in their lives: their routines, positive relationships with teachers at schools, their therapists and counselors. They’re completely disconnected and isolated.
Burns: What excites you about the Marygrove initiative?
Kalass: In my 13 years at Starfish, this is the first time I’ve seen an economic redevelopment plan put children at the center. We are working on a first of its kind, sometimes called a P-20 or a cradle-to-career educational campus. The early childhood center will open September 2021.
Burns: What has The Children’s Foundation helped you with?
Kalass: You’ve helped us with advocacy. The Children’s Foundation has been core to Starfish’s ability to innovate and to meet some of the often-forgotten needs of children. We’re really proud of our integrated model of care that recognizes that children often face multiple challenges. Sometimes children can fall through the cracks of public funding systems.
You were a core investor in an innovative center in Dearborn that we operate called the Partnering with Parents Center that brings a multidisciplinary approach to mothers and fathers and children, birth to six. We find that a lot of the children that we’re working with have early speech delays or need occupational therapy. There’s really no public funding stream to go to for some of those children but you’ve allowed us to do that work. You’ve also allowed us to innovate for children who have either disabilities or delays in their physical or intellectual development and meet the needs of children that just don’t fit into the public system.
Larry Burns: What is the campus going to evolve into?
Tom Lewand: About three years ago, Kresge got involved in working with the IHM Sisters who had started Marygrove in the early part of the 20th century. Amazing work was done by the team at Kresge, Starfish, Marygrove and Michigan to start a ninth grade class. The tenth grade class started this year. We’ll add a class every year—11th grade next year, then a 12th grade—until we have the full high school complement. We also have the opening of the early childhood learning center next year so we’ll have both ends of the spectrum on campus. As we fill that out, we’ll have a full complement of over 1,000 kids on campus The P-20 cradle-to-career education center is focused on two primary things. The first is social justice, it’s the foundation in every class. Design thinking is the other principle; being able to problem solve.
Burns: Tell us about the curriculum development.
Lewand: What Elizabeth Moje and the University of Michigan School of Education have envisioned for this campus, with the support of Detroit Public Schools Community District, is transformational. They’re looking at not only how to teach kids, but how we teach teachers to teach kids. This creates what is really the first teacher residency program.
An example of what the combination of design thinking and social justice can mean practically is the kids in the ninth grade were involved in designing the new school. They were participating in that process as junior architects working with our architectural team. You’re showing kids different career opportunities, different pathways that may not have naturally come their way in a typical curriculum.
Burns: Tell us about the Kresge involvement and how others are helping.
Lewand: Kresge Foundation has made one of the largest commitments in their history in the form of their involvement with this program. We have other great organizations involved as well. The one most people immediately identify with is the Detroit Youth Choir because of their great success on America’s Got Talent. In our Incubator, we have all five organizations in one spot on campus, so they can share ideas and services. We have an executive in residence that can help with their business and fundraising plans. The Detroit Phoenix Center helps kids who are challenged with food or housing insecurity. The Detroit City Lions Youth Club takes care of hundreds of kids, providing services to help kids with their homework, supplemental tutoring, and help with food insecurity.
Another group is JOURNi, whose mission is to teach kids about opportunities for professional development and technology, help them with coding and finding a career in tech. Those kinds of opportunities are not as plentiful in neighborhoods around Marygrove as they are in the suburbs. We’re creating an environment for kids after school that is as healthy or healthier than what they get in school.