When you set your sights on improving one of the state’s worst schools and moving 10,000 families out of poverty, you don’t really need a high-powered advertising agency to develop your marketing campaign.
Just call it your Big Bold Goal.
That’s the name the United Way of the Bluegrass (UWBG) has chosen for its new effort to help improve the quality of lives for those people living in its nine-county service area. Bill Farmer, president and CEO of UWBG, joined Renee Shaw on a recent edition of Connections to discuss the agency’s Big Bold Goal.
Tackling Persistent Problems
Farmer says UWBG is moving away from simply being a fundraising organization to an entity that has a more direct impact on individual lives. He cites a University of Kentucky economic study that shows that every dollar UWBG invests locally in education, personal finance, and health programs generates a $10 return in the communities it serves.
Despite that success, Farmer says there are still persistent issues of poverty and low educational attainment that need to be resolved. So the organization decided to sharpen its focus to four areas: basic needs, school readiness, student success, and financial stability.
“So the fundamental approach that we’re taking is that if we were to be successful in these areas, we could reduce poverty substantially over time,” Farmer says.
That focus evolved into the Big Bold Goal of moving 10,000 central Kentucky families out of poverty by the year 2020. He explains that would mean those families would no longer need state or federal assistance.
Farmer says the path to that goal will include a strong focus on education. He wants to see every public school in the UWBG service area to be rated as proficient or distinguished–and 90 percent of all high school graduates to be college and career ready.
Targeting Kentucky’s Worst School
Farmer argues that the education focus is natural for Lexington, since the city was recently rated as the 10th smartest community in the nation based the percentage of residents who have college degrees. At the same time, though, Lexington is also home to William Wells Brown Elementary, the school that scored the lowest in the state’s testing and accountability system.
“So to have the least performing elementary school in the tenth smartest place in the country to live, is one of those kinds of rallying calls,” Farmer explains, “that clearly says we need to do something differently than we’ve done in the past.”
To specifically address the issues at William Wells Brown, UWBG will deploy 400 volunteers – one adult for every student at the school – to mentor the students and help them improve their academic performance. The original plan was to have those volunteers in place for the start of the next school year, but Farmer says Fayette County officials have asked if they could start work in the next few months.
Farmer says 100 people have already signed up for the effort, and he hopes to recruit the remaining volunteers from local colleges and universities, church groups, and retirees and senior citizens.