Dear Allegany Franciscan Ministries,
I have had the honor and privilege of serving as the Executive Director of the Overtown Children and Youth Coalition (OCYC) for the past five-plus years. In this role, I have been an active leader, participant, and observer in OCYC’s advancement and exponential growth. The evolution from our organization’s humble beginnings to where we are now is robust, interdisciplinary, community-driven and statewide. As part of the Florida Children’s Initiative, we have become a well-respected local and statewide coalition. Our success and progress would not have been possible without the investment and support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries (Allegany).
Being one of the first recipients of Allegany’s Common Good Initiative in Overtown, we have had remarkable accomplishments. These highlights include securing and maintaining legislative status as a Florida Children’s Initiative. The legislation supports neighborhoods in the state where the infrastructure and opportunities that middle-class communities take for granted are nonexistent or so marginal that they are ineffective. Growing support and membership from organizations within and beyond Overtown, launching research, data-sharing, and policy initiatives, and driving funding hand-in-hand with our local and statewide partners help place OCYC on a statewide platform.
Last year, the OCYC launched the Online Learning Portal and Laptop Scholarship Program to mitigate the digital divide in our community. We have awarded 76 brand new laptops to youth thus far, with a goal to award 500. We collaborated on an educational advocacy project called the Rainy-Day Initiative to promote school attendance at local elementary schools in the community. We have focused on educational advocacy and being aware of decisions made at the school board level. We hired a Lead Community Builder to engage with over 30 childcare centers within Overtown and surrounding communities to understand emerging issues in the childcare industry. Together with ConnectFamilias in Little Havana and Sant La in Little Haiti/ NE Corridor, we will continue to drive policy and advocacy efforts around the early childhood and childcare workforce. We have strengthened community data-sharing, and are creating a space in each of our committees to drive data-driven strategies. For example, in a new grant focused on assessing and addressing issues in Overtown’s five parks, we have collected, managed, and visualized data on the conditions and usage of each of the parks and can now review and reflect on how we can use this to inform our decisions.
Finally, since its inception, OCYC has been dedicated to workforce readiness, jobs, internships, entrepreneurship placements, and skill building. Through our OCYC Productive and Working Committee, we held the 4th annual “I am the Boss of My Life” work readiness fair over the summer of 2022. Approximately 100 youth attended the fair and could access workshops around professional development, resume-building, and skill-building, as well as hear from a panel of experts as they prepare to enter the workforce.
OCYC has provided more than 300 meetings, workshops, training, webinars, and conferences for partners, residents, youth, and educators to acquire new skills through capacity building, continuing education, and career training after entering the workforce. OCYC members have had the opportunity to take classes or workshops, attend professional or social justice conferences, or earn a certificate to expand their knowledge in a chosen field.
OCYC’s collective impact strategy has created a network of community members, organizations, and institutions who advance equity by learning together, aligning, and integrating their actions to achieve population and systems-level change.
The incredible work driven by OCYC would not be possible without support from partners like Allegany, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Children and Families, the University of Miami, private donors, residents, families, and youth around the table to guide us. Moving the needle on critical areas to ensure that all children and youth in Overtown are thriving requires community building, convening partners, shared measurement, continuous communication, mutually reinforcing activities, and, most importantly, shared goals. I know that the work of OCYC has just begun, and I cannot thank Allegany enough for supporting us over the years.
Graylyn Swilley Woods