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Martha O'Bryan Center's Young Family Success Center

We are designing a model to provide vulnerable families with two-generational family stability supports & early childhood education services

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Name or Organization

Martha O'Bryan Center


Nashville, Tennessee

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Our solution will centralize family stability and early childhood education resources so that families can better access solutions in a holistic fashion. It will allow for shared growth and education, creating an immediate and generational impact, positively changing the family narrative and optimizing sustainability and efficacy. Because we accomplish our work through cross-sector partnerships (i.e. leading Nashville Promise Neighborhood and Nashville After-Zone Alliance initiatives), we also see this work as a vehicle to disseminate best practices, changing the game for our city at large.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

After providing forty years of quality early childhood education services, Martha O’Bryan Center has decided to utilize the Human-Centered Design Process to reimagine our service delivery model to better address barriers to early childhood development and family stability in Nashville’s most distressed public housing community (Cayce Place). This process will include input from content and community experts at every stage and will result in the creation of a first-of-its-kind Young Family Success Center that contains offerings found in full-scale early childhood education centers (reading, writing, and behavior instruction) as well as opportunities for parents to build knowledge of healthy childhood development (parent education), complete high school equivalency, workforce readiness, and post-secondary success workshops, and access crucial social-emotional supports (crisis services, case management, counseling). Programming will be differentiated based on age (i.e. among families with children 0 to 18 months and families with children 18 to 36 months).

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Our work to create an innovative Young Family Success Center stems from an essential question: How can we best use our location, resources, and expertise to empower parents, educate children, and elevate families. Currently, more than 30% of parents in our service area are unemployed, only 22% of children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten services, and the average annual income among families is $7,494.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Martha O’Bryan Center is currently utilizing the Human-Centered Design Process to reimagine early childhood education and family stability programming for families living in Nashville’s most vulnerable community. With more than forty years of wear and tear, our early learning center is now in need of renovations, and rather than repair the space and continue with current services, we have decided to take this opportunity to explore other research-validated service delivery models to ensure we are best supporting vulnerable families. Our goal is to serve a larger percentage of the community, improve our space and program quality, and shift toward a two-generational model to provide parents with the tools, networks, and opportunities they need to help their children get the best start possible.

Our Young Family Success Center will incorporate core two-generational components championed by the Aspen Institute:

(1) Education: This will include healthy childhood development workshops, high school equivalency preparation, and post-secondary/employment coaching for parents as well as quality early childhood education services for at-risk children. All services will be provided free of charge.

(2) Economic Supports: This will include financial and non-financial supports regarding housing, transportation, healthcare, food, and other basic necessities. These services will provide scaffolds for families as they build assets that lead to better jobs and long-term stability.

(3) Social Capital: This will include peer-to-peer support (parent cohorts) and community cohesion activities (community meals, playground hours, etc.). These supports are powerful factors in helping families lift themselves up and out of poverty.

With this framework in place, Martha O’Bryan Center has invited community and content experts to the table to help us better understand community strengths and needs, identify funding mechanisms, and research best practices in service delivery for the components outlined above. We believe that those most qualified to solve this issue are those who know it best—Cayce Place families, community volunteers, Martha O’Bryan Center employees, early childhood educators, and non-profit providers. This process of convening and interviewing experts will constitute the Inspiration phase of our Human-Centered Design Process.

As we move into Ideation, we will begin to connect the dots, making sense of what we’ve heard from community leaders and content experts. The Advisory Team will carefully review and refine the hundreds of ideas generated during the Inspiration process using three essential questions: (1) is the idea desirable (what we want); (2) is the idea viable (what we can afford); and (3) is the idea feasible (what we can do). The key will be to harness the unbridled creativity of the Inspiration phase, refining ideas while keeping true to their core sentiment.

We will then bring our chosen solutions to life during the Implementation phase. The result will be a one-stop-shop where parents can pursue their education and employment goals while their children receive a quality early childhood education experience.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

For more than 120 years, Martha O’Bryan Center has served Nashville’s most vulnerable residents, helping them build assets, resiliency, and prosperity. Our Young Family Success Center will support families living in and around Cayce Place in East Nashville, where median income is $7,494, 70% below the National Poverty Level, and unemployment stands at 30%, six times higher than the county rate. 91% of residents are African-American, 90% of households are headed by a single parent, and 60% of residents are under 18. These families live just across the Cumberland River from a thriving downtown lined with luxury condos, a bevy of businesses, and iconic government buildings, yet they are isolated by poverty, without access to quality schools, reliable transportation, healthy food, affordable medical care, family stability supports, and other basic necessities.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Martha O’Bryan Center believes that to defeat generational poverty in our city’s most vulnerable community, we must support the academic achievement of children and youth while bolstering the stability of their parents. Throughout our history, we have accomplished this work through a cradle-to-career continuum of programs—some that served children and youth and others that served parents. Our experiences have shown us that while our individual programs often attain unprecedented success, two-generational opportunities could further multiply our investments in early childhood and post-secondary education. We believe that a two-generational approach will be more efficient than serving children and parents in isolation because it manifests a sense of “mutual motivation”. In essence, parents will witness and support their children’s growth and in turn become motivated to pursue their own goals, whether that be attainment of a high school equivalency diploma, college degree, or full-time employment. As a result, parents will become more involved in their children’s educational success, creating a mutually reinforcing cycle and planting the seeds for systemic positive change. Long-standing outcomes will include: (a) improvements in key early childhood development indicators, (b) increases in kindergarten readiness; and (c) increases in family stability indicators (high school equivalency attainment, college degree attainment, employment).

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Our Young Family Success Center will educate and support Nashville’s most vulnerable children while empowering their parents to continue to serve as the child’s first and most knowledgeable teacher, nurturer, and role model. This work is especially crucial in Cayce Place, where 90% of households are headed by a single mother. Children in single-mother families experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, yet there is strong potential to build upon research that suggests a high return on investments that support parents and their children in shared settings. Therefore, while we propose to serve the most at-risk parents and children in our city, we also propose to implement a model that amplifies impact.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Martha O’Bryan Center’s human-centered design process for the Young Family Success Center affords an opportunity to strengthen early literacy development, build stronger transitions to kindergarten, and share a community practice of innovation and effectiveness, to be disseminated among parents and providers. Additionally, our parenting programming is designed on the concept that parents are their child’s first and best teacher and services work to empower caregivers in this regard. Participants connect with children and community in this process, sharing health/parenting tools among each other and other non-participants in the neighborhood. They often become leaders and change makers in our service area. Furthermore, positive discipline, health awareness, and parenting techniques are modeled for children and passed through the generations, reaching more “end users” in that process.

Also, Martha O’Bryan Center has a long history in the neighborhood, existent family programming, and deep city-wide partnerships—all of which would help facilitate scale-up of programmatic design. We have experience in this realm through our work as lead agency of Nashville Promise Neighborhood (U.S. Dept of Education planning grant, 2011), coordinator of Nashville After-Zone Alliance services (Nashville government initiative providing out-of-school time-services to middle school students since 2011), and founder of the college-going Academic Student Unions located at three local schools.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Over the next two years, Martha O’Bryan Center will renovate its forty-year-old Early Learning Center, transforming it into a two-generational facility that integrates high-quality early childhood development programming with family stability services. This Young Family Success Center will improve kindergarten readiness and increase overall family well-being, utilizing research-informed practices such as the CAP Tulsa two-generational model of service, trauma-informed care service delivery, and ACEs understanding. It is feasible in the sense that the Youth Family Success Center model draws upon the strengths of existent Martha O’Bryan Center programs, including early childhood development, emergent literacy, parent education, adult education, and post-secondary/employment coaching. We expect activities will alternate throughout the day, serving parents, children, and whole families, alternating between parent/child literacy activities and family-focused programming, dependent on design/community input.

As such, we also expect the Youth Family Success Center to utilize supports and expertise in several other programs provided across the Martha O’Bryan Center cradle-to-career continuum. This two-generation approach is designed to more fully serve each family and help them set their own pathways out of poverty. Adult Education offers an alternative pathway to high school graduation and HiSET attainment for youth and adults, helping them build skills for college and career; and our two employment programs, Chapter Two and Jobs Plus Nashville. Chapter Two provides job skills training workshops, career pathway seminars, job placements, and service referrals to out-of-school youth ages 17-24, while Jobs Plus Nashville provides job skills training workshops, employment placements, and retention incentives to adults.

Martha O’Bryan Center’s Family Support Team (FST) will be available to provide crisis supports, long-term case management, social-emotional counseling, practical assistance, and trauma-informed care to participants in the Young Family Success Center. In 2013, the FST led Martha O’Bryan Center in transitioning to a Trauma-Informed Community Center after receipt of a three-year, $1 million Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant from the U.S. Dept of Justice. This helps all staff better understand the interrelation between trauma and symptoms of trauma, such as substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. In May 2015, Martha O’Bryan Center received a brain science grant from the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through which we became one of 15 designated sites in North America sharing best practices and research throughout the year. ACEs literally shape child brain development and lead to potential barriers or challenges for adults. Better understanding the effects of trauma and ACEs in those we serve adds to our knowledge of potential barriers to success for children and partners alike.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Martha O’Bryan Center serves children who are zoned for the most economically-disadvantaged and lowest-performing schools in the city, scoring Ds or Fs in Reading, Math, Science, and Social Studies, according to Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program results. Our needs assessment, conducted as lead agency of Nashville Promise Neighborhood, showed that less than half of Cayce Place residents accessed early learning programming. So, we began addressing the issues of access and education in several ways—strong emergent literacy in our early learning center, out-of-school-time programming at area elementary schools, parenting education, and the founding of two K-8 charter schools.

Although there were positive results to this approach, we saw the importance of combining these services in a two-generational fashion to draw additional input from the community, further invest parents in their children’s success, and more seamlessly support transitions to kindergarten. We are excited to draw a new blueprint for child and family success. We have existent staff and space at our main campus to do so and are working with the community and a cohort of early learning experts to reimagine our service delivery model. We also garnered inspiration from visiting CAP Tulsa in Oklahoma to learn more about their unique approach to two-generational services, achieving family success through early childhood education merged with family advancement programming.

The goal of our Young Family Success Center will be to provide free quality two-generational early learning opportunities for neighborhood families in the heart of their community. This translates to expanding early childhood literacy strategies and services to foster healthy beginnings for children, while supporting families with parent education, adult education, college/career coaching, and social-emotional support (trauma-informed care, conscious discipline, ACEs prevention).

Experience: For the past 15 years, our Early Learning Center has received a three-star rating by the State of Tennessee and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an honor earned by less than 6% of childcare programs in our state. In fact, our pre-k model was the first of its kind in our city and became the impetus for Governor Bredesen’s decision to secure funding for community-based pre-k classrooms throughout the state. Our Tied Together parenting program was founded in 2008 at the request of community members witnessing what they saw as ineffective or inappropriate parenting in the neighborhood. Originally modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, Tied Together supports the physical and social-emotional health of vulnerable parents and children through: (1) prevention and early intervention to address children’s educational, health, and safety needs; (2) education and training to strengthen family bonds; and (3) development of supportive social networks.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Yes. We have expertise in early learning, emergent literacy, and social-emotional service delivery and 65 years of service in the community, working with parents and providers to provide shared solutions through education and employment programs and partnerships. Through this dialogue, we are able to identify needs, integrate feedback, and work toward solutions for direct service and public/private advocacy, responding to community voice through our Family Resource Center, while working with our school district and elected officials on education programs and charter schools.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Following the Human-Centered Design Process and our history in the neighborhood, it would be helpful to deepen our expertise in building awareness and trust through outreach. Supports in engagement and community organizing would be helpful to allow residents to advocate as well as participate.

Considering our longstanding partnership with neighborhood residents, this is an integral part of our work but also a cognitive challenge. Given the high degree that public housing residents have been shut out of opportunity structures, we cannot underestimate the impact of hopelessness and trauma on residents, suggesting the need for innovative prevention and intervention services that bring about personal and community level change. While we have a presence in the community and strong word of mouth reputation, more can be done.

For example, in our most recent community needs assessment, 34.2% of residents reported a need for parenting support programs, indicating a need for greater capacity and/or publicizing of services. Interestingly, at the closest elementary school, 47% of those polled said they volunteered at the school, 88% said they attended events at the school, but still 76% wanted to be more involved, indicating the need to broaden options and opportunities for parent involvement.

This is in alignment with key school district priorities, which include coordinating outreach to family members to encourage support of their child’s education, contributing to decision-making discussions and improving awareness of transparent and timely communications. This includes increasing the percentages of family members represented in formal parent organizations and increased satisfaction with community engagement efforts.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

For the past year, Martha O’Bryan Center has participated in the Ascend Network, a collaboration of two-generational service providers convened by the Aspen Institute. Our Chief Executive Officer and Chief Program Officer regularly attend Ascend Network conferences to learn more about the successes and struggles of the two-generational approach as well as funding mechanisms. To build upon this work, we would welcome mentoring support from experts and organizational leaders with experience in developing and implementing two-generational models of service delivery, specifically those targeted at young families.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Bios for our Young Family Success Center advisory committee are attached.

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