The Children’s Trust of Alachua County (CTAC) approved its long-awaited strategic plan for 2023-26 last week, but the plan remains broad and will be developed in the coming months, according to CTAC’s executive director Marsha Kiner.
This new strategic plan is the product of a 10-month listening project, through which CTAC heard from about 1,400 people across the county through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and community meetings.
The goal was to understand what issues community youth and caregivers prioritize. Participants, both parents and children, helped construct a long list of youth services and resources they said the county needs.
After receiving the synthesized results of the listening project, the CTAC steering committee worked with independent contractors from Seek Higher Ground and Prismatic Services to create a strategic plan based on the community’s feedback.
Prismatic is an educational consulting service, geared toward gathering information to help improve practices. Seek Higher Ground is a group that helps develop plans for organizations to pursue racial justice and healing for communities.
With the contractors’ help, the steering committee created a plan with three goals: addressing health, thriving and safety for the youth of Alachua County.
These three goals are similar to CTAC’s original approach, in which the Trust was guided by four strategic principles: all children are born healthy and remain healthy, all children can learn what they need to be successful, all children have nurturing, supportive caregivers, and relationships, and all children live in a safe community. The only change is that the new guiding principles combine the first and third goals into one.
“The most important thing about the trust goals is that they came out of the conversations with the community,” CTAC board member Nancy Hardt said in a phone interview.
The new strategic plan assumes a budget of about $7.6 million, with half going toward health, 35% to thriving, 10% to safety-oriented programming, and 5% reserved for capacity building.
When the draft of the plan came before the CTAC Board of Directors last week, the board had no major revisions to make. They addressed several clarifications of terminology, sharpening the language to include young people who may not want to be called children, and those who might not be fully in the care of a legal guardian.
“We’re thinking about this in a continuum—the full child, from pre-birth to age 18,” Kiner said in a phone interview.
Hardt said this element of CTAC’s new approach is important because it spreads the focus to cover children before they enter the school system, when many programs engage. Hardt said overlooking the youngest children, before they go to school or are even born, has hurt America.
“It just puts children at a disadvantage from ‘go,’” Hardt said. “So we as a community have to say ‘no,’ we must value these young families and help them to get a good start, so that when they reach the public school system, they’ll be equipped to be successful.”
The board passed a tentative budget in the same meeting, approving a .4612 millage rate for the 2024 fiscal year. That rate is expected to increase CTAC’s overall funding, but the tentative budget marked a plan to decrease program funding. Several board members expressed their intent to dispute that decision in the next meeting.
Addison Staples is executive director for Aces in Motion (AIM), a sports-based youth development program that aims to promote children’s “health, academic achievement and character development.” AIM falls into all three categories, which may complicate applications for funding, but Staples said he is hopeful about the direction of the strategic plan.
“I would encourage the Trust to take those three goals and make sure that they’re defining what they mean by healthy and learning and safe, and what are some things underneath those,” Staples said.
With more detail, organizations like AIM will know what parts of their programming can receive funding from CTAC, Staples said.
Kiner said the next step for the Children’s Trust is to create work plans for each goal area. She said these work plans will give more guidance about what types of programs the Trust will prioritize, and how programs can focus their applications for funding.
Kiner described the Children’s Trust—which voters approved in a 2018 referendum—as a convener, organizer and planner for initiatives the community wants to take. Sometimes that involves funding the program, and sometimes it does not.
Sometimes, CTAC works to support existing systems like AIM. Other times, it plays more of an organizing role, convening groups of organizations or people to create whatever new system is needed, Kiner said.
Organizations hoping to work with CTAC under its new strategic plan should be willing to demonstrate that their work falls in line with the plan’s goals, according to Hardt. She said organizations that have existing relationships with CTAC should not have trouble with this. Hardt also said she hopes to bring in new partners.
Staples said he hopes the coming work plans leave space for smaller start-up nonprofits, which can benefit from seed funding and micro grants with fewer requirements to meet.
“When we started out 11 years ago, we were reliant on those smaller grants and that smaller seed funding,” Staples said. “Now that we’re in a different growth and maturity as an organization, I think it’s responsible for us to advocate for where we once were, for others to be able to get those same opportunities that were granted to us earlier.”