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  Free To Grow
  Mailman School
  of Public Health
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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
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Drew Medical University Head Start

Drew Medical University Head Start

The Compton, California Head Start model has adapted a strengths-based approach to community action that utilizes Head Start centers and community schools as the hubs for its citywide "Safe Space for Children" campaign.  School-based "Safe Space Task Forces" comprised of trained Parent Advocates work with school representatives to improve the physical, social and cultural environment of their schools and neighborhood. A Community Coalition composed of resident and agency representatives provides support to "safe space" efforts, as well as sponsoring city-wide activities designed to heighten awareness and change community norms around substance abuse.

Core Strategies

Identifying Community Leaders Among Head Start, Elementary School Parents and Other Residents

The Drew University Free To Grow model identifies a broad cross-section of the community to build its resident leadership base.  At the core of the project's leadership development activities is the identification of individuals willing to be trained to become Parent or Youth Advocates who take the lead in the project's community-based prevention activities.  The Head Start program and local feeder schools provide the primary base for identifying potential Parent Advocate candidates, with outreach to identify Advocates in the broad community evolving as the project builds relationships with other residents through its community action campaigns.  Youth Advocates are drawn from neighborhood middle and high schools, as well as area youth programs.  Parent Advocates work approximately twelve to fifteen hours a month and receive stipends of $100/month.  Youth Advocates receive transportation reimbursement and per diem payments for participation in community assessment activities.  Youth Advocates also have specific budgetary funds set aside to support youth focused prevention projects and activities within the community. 

Training Parent and Youth Advocates to Take the Lead

Building community capacity to seek change lies at the core of the Drew model.   Therefore, teaching, training and mentoring in leadership development are critical to the successful implementation of all program components.  After they are recruited, Parent and Youth Advocates participate in an introductory eight week training session covering the principles of risk and protective factors approaches to prevention, meeting facilitation, community assessment and community action.  Integral to the model is the concept of "training off the action."  Thus, ongoing training takes place to support specific issues of concern that emerge as priority prevention issues are identified.  Training sessions may help Advocates understand the content specific to particular policy issues, such as reducing youth access to alcohol or using local code enforcement regulations to clean up problem properties within a neighborhood.  Other training seeks to enhance skills in moving a community change agenda forward at the local level such as using tools such as community mapping to track crime "hot spots" or to teach residents how to analyze a municipal or school budget in order to assess local funding levels for prevention activities. 

Building Relationships with Key Community Leaders

One of the underlying premises of the model's organizing approach is that citizens must work in collaboration with public institutions in order to move a primary prevention agenda forward.  Thus, identifying and building relationships with key community leaders, such as municipal and political officials, leadership of community-based organizations, clergy, and other local advocates is a critical strategy for effectively carrying out the program's activities.  These relationships must be built from the program's inception, and nurtured throughout its implementation. 

In the original program site, in order to support and nurture these relationships and to create community- wide buy-in for Free To Grow's goals and objectives, community leaders were invited to join an open membership Community Coalition, comprised of Parent and Youth Advocates, other community residents, agency representatives, public officials, business persons and other local leaders.  The Coalition also provided a forum where issues identified at the Safe Space Task Force level (see below) could be addressed through broader community input.  These relationships provide critical opportunities to leverage local power on behalf of the program's work.

Establishing School-based Task Forces to Identify Issues for Action

Trained Parent Advocates form the core of school-based Safe Space Task Forces that operate as organizing hubs for Head Start and elementary school parents.  These task forces bring together parents, Head Start and school officials, and representatives of public institutions to identify key primary prevention priorities and seek solutions to create safe, healthy school and neighborhood environments.  To build and sustain a community organizing infrastructure, these Task Forces are established in clusters, with Head Start parents joining forces with parents in their feeder elementary schools, so that linkages are established with parents and school officials to which their children will transition.  Safe Space Task Forces also send representatives to participate in the Community Coalition, to network and collaborate with other parents and community leaders in the implementation of prevention activities.

Engaging Resident and Community Leadership in a Community Assessment Process Designed to Identify School and Neighborhood Prevention Priorities

In order to build consensus on the community's prevention priorities, trained Parent and Youth Advocates and Safe Space Task members work with community leadership to carry out an action plan initiated through a community assessment and designed to achieve a collective understanding of school and neighborhood risk and protective factors.  Utilizing input from residents and community leadership, survey instruments and other assessment tools are created, and a school and community focused assessment takes place.  Residents are trained to carry out and analyze assessment activities, building ownership in assessment results.  These assessment results form the basis for determining the project's preliminary focus, and for building a deeper understanding of the perceptions of all community players who will be involved in the project's work.

Collaboration Among Task Force Members and Community Leaders to Carry Out Strategic Action Plans to Solve Identified Problems

The community assessment process sets the stage for identifying priority issues for shaping the project's prevention agenda.  Advocates, Task Force members, and community leaders agree upon a strategic action agenda that identifies desired outcomes on priority school and neighborhood issues.  These priorities might include school issues such as: increasing parents' engagement in promoting their children's literacy, establishing police protocols to improve student safety during arrival and dismissal times, improving parent/teacher relationships, or establishing after-school activities for students whose parents are working.  Neighborhood issues might include reducing youth access to alcohol, strengthening neighborhood watch efforts, and improving enforcement against street drug dealing.


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.