Lemonade: That Cool Refreshing Drink

By Dawn Brown

Lemonade: That Cool Refreshing Drink

I sent this text to my friend Jennifer earlier this week that said, “Two words: High Drate.”  Ok, I was being a bit dramatic. But in my defense, we had just watched the penultimate episode of This is Us. And after a 6-season emotional roller coaster ride, saying our final farewells to the Pearson family (a family that somehow feels like our own family) has not been easy on our hearts, our hydration, or our mascara. Now, don’t worry, no spoilers here. But if you watch and need someone to talk it out with, let’s go to lunch!

However, there is one common thread that has been sewn into the show’s tapestry since season one and that one is all about lemonade. Lemonade, that cool refreshing drink. Dr. K delivered the Pearson triplets on the show and he was credited with a quote that he passed on to the Pearson family that always resonated with me, but especially this week. It goes like this:  “Sometimes you have to take the sourest lemon life has to offer and turn it into something resembling lemonade.”

That really hit home this week as a huge group of amazing, dedicated, passionate, and capable community leaders attended an IYI State of the Child conference hosted by the Foundation’s supporting organization Thriving Grant County, Thriving Mill Township. What a momentous event! Such a cool location at Thriving’s newly renovated space in Mill Township—one that they share with the Grant County Rescue Mission, a collaboration at its finest. The tables were decorated intentionally to provide us with a creative pallet for which to brainstorm. They were smart because they fed us. Great thinking happens with food—especially doughnuts! And, they had table hosts to direct the conversation of the varied attendees that truly did look like a slice of Grant County—it made me proud to be there. So, thanks to IYI, Thriving led by Cathy Weatherspoon, and the entire committee for making it happen.

The big reveal was the Kids Count Data Book. However, I gotta admit, the Grant County data tastes a bit like the sourest lemon life has to offer. But as one of the speakers, Dr. Sarah Farmer, reminded everyone, behind each bit of data, every statistic, and all the percentages, is a face and a name. A real child with hopes and dreams for a bright future. And despite the challenging data points, I feel hopeful because that face was once me.

 

Here’s some of what we learned from IYI:

Grant County is home to 13,774 children ages 0-17. But there is another category called Opportunity Youth. Those are young adults ages 18-25 who are disconnected from both school and work. There are 8,356 of these older youth in our community. Now, I’m no mathematician, but when I heard that, I jotted a quick calculation on the side of my notepad. It looked a little bit like this:

0-17 =   13,774
18-25 = 22,130
0-25 =   35,904
Total Grant County Population = 68,452
Total % of 18-25 = 32.3%

That means 32.3% of our Grant County names and faces are youth or older youth.

Now, I don’t know about you but if 1/3 of my calories or income or knowledge was coming from any one source, I’d be paying really close attention to that source to make sure it was healthy, sustainable, and thriving. That’s a substantial number! So, we took the time to review some of the data in the following four categories:  (1) Economic Well-Being, (2) Education, (3) Health, and (4) Family and Community:

 

🍋 (1) Economic Well-Being: First and foremost, we should pay close attention to the fact that the number of children, 0-17, in poverty increased slightly, up to 27.5%. Although disappointing, not unexpected, with Covid having a more significant impact on our most marginalized populations. More disappointing is being in the Top Ten in the state of Indiana regarding our child poverty numbers for decades; that trend continues.

However, the most shocking news was to see the enormous increase in poverty for the Opportunity Youth, ages 18-25. They had a jump from 25% in poverty in 2019 to a whopping 38.9% in poverty in 2020. Again, Covid likely had an impact here due to those who were furloughed from their jobs, businesses shutting down, or the lack of childcare preventing this segment from earning their full wage potential. Additionally, at all levels, we were significantly above the child poverty rate in Indiana, as noted below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

🍋 (2) Education: Another area of interest was the scores for 3rd grade proficiency in reading which stood at 81.1% of our students reading on grade level by the end of their 3rd grade year. While that’s a low ‘B’ in the realm of grades which isn’t at all bad, that still means nearly 20% of our littles aren’t reading on par with their peers.

(Sidebar:  I used to be one of those kids. I wasn’t reading on grade level by 3rd Grade. I had to be in the Red Devils reading group with the other kids who weren’t reading well. I HATED that reading group and made it a personal mission to get out simply so I could get into a higher group with a name that didn’t include the word devil! I made it out by Grade 5. I’ve been a reader and a leader ever since.)

This is disconcerting news in that it’s widely known that from birth to 3rd grade students are learning to read. After that, they are reading to learn. That means if they can’t read well, they can’t learn as the curriculum is written in the following grades. It has horrible repercussions.

Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, more likely to fall behind in other academic areas, and more likely to drop out of high school, end up in the criminal justice system, and live in poverty.

So, we truly need to address this or else we’ll end up with continued poverty levels in the next generation.

 

🍋 (3) Health: A true note of concern, not just by the IYI data, but by numerous professionals in the building that day, was the lack of mental health providers available to serve the needs of our children and families. While the ratio of population to Mental Health Providers is better than the state of Indiana, it’s not serving the needs of our county—and we should be concerned about the mental health of our state, too. With only one licensed mental health provider for every 391 citizens, there is no way that all the severe needs can possibly be addressed. And our children have a significant amount of social and emotional needs that must be met in order for them to learn, contribute, and thrive.

Clearly, we need to determine some small, medium, and large ways to shore up this insurmountable ratio to serve the mental health needs of our most vulnerable populations. Some cool ideas were brainstormed that day and they may come to fruition if we all start working toward a common vision with clear objectives.

 

 

🍋 (4) Family and Community: A final Family and Community need worth mentioning is the number of CHINS cases in our county. CHINS stands for “CHild In Need of Services”.

A CHINS action is a civil proceeding used by the juvenile court to get a child to conform his or her behavior to certain rules. The four types of CHINS petitions are “Runaway”, “Stubborn Child”, “Habitual School Offender” and “Truancy”. A CHINS adjudication will allow the court to 1) impose certain conditions on the child (i.e.: curfew, counseling, compliance with DCF services) and 2) place custody of the child with the parent/legal guardian, qualified 3rd party or the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

While the overall state numbers in this area are decreasing, Grant County’s numbers are rising and they’re also significantly higher than the state of Indiana as a whole. That’s certainly worthy of some creative problem solving, don’t you think?

 

Truly, this data can certainly be overwhelming. Where do you begin? How can you, one person or one organization, make a difference? Will the small role you can play even make a difference? Might I offer up a few answers to these lofty questions?

How can you, one person or one organization make a difference? Join in with others who genuinely care about the well-being of children in our community. A rope with many strands is strong. You might think, “Yeah, we collaborate already. We don’t operate as a silo.” May I challenge you to think a bit deeper. Are you a selective collaborator? It’s easy to say we work with others if we get to choose those partners. What if the partnerships are somewhat difficult? A competitor perhaps. A tough personality maybe. Or someone from a community that’s different than yours. With data like IYI released, it’s an all-hands-on-deck task if you ask me. Of course, it’s wise to start working with the ones passionate and willing to tackle this systemic problem—some aren’t early adopters. But that might include people or organizations that you’re not usually at the table with. As Janice Adams said at the event, everyone is welcome to the table, so ‘come to the table, but stay at the table.’ I might add, ‘even when it’s hard.’

Where do you begin? You eat that elephant one bite at a time. A general consensus of the group this week was to choose 3-5 data points we’d like to tackle and develop a laser-like focus on for a dedicated  5 years—until the outcomes lead to the data swinging in the right direction! We get to choose, so research all the Grant County specific IYI data here. I’ve only highlighted a sliver of it in this blog. Once you peruse the data follow Thriving Grant County on the Facebook to see next steps so that you can have a say in what specific issues might be addressed. As Oprah would say, what I do know for sure is that when we all decide to row in the same direction, we travel to our destination more quickly.

Will the small role you can play even make a difference? What I also know for sure is that nearly 50 years ago I was one of those little girls living in poverty and selling lemonade in front of my house to make a little extra money. I vividly remember my mom getting upset with me when she got home from work for accepting pop bottles as payment—but not for the reason you might think. She knew those glass pop bottles were valuable and could be taken back to the store for money, about 10 cents apiece in those days. And while, I certainly could have cashed them in, she felt sure that those families probably needed to cash them in on their own to shore up their grocery expenses. It was true.

So, I know a bit about taking the sourest lemons that you can get and making something that resembles lemonade. My lemonade was made with a quality education that I received at Mississinewa, an undergraduate in Education at Ball State, and even a Master’s Degree from IWU—all so I could live and lead right here in this place that I call home. That’s some sa-weeeeeet lemonade, my friends.

I was able to do all of this because a large group of people—friends, family, teachers, administrators, pastors, mentors, and even a geometry tutor—all decided to row in my direction. Trust me, when you added all those “people ingredients” to the sourest lemons, it made for some refreshing lemonade for me, my life, my future family, and the leadership I’m offering up now. So, let’s do more of that! Let’s make a big batch of lemonade and offer free refills. And if we run out, let’s just make more—together.

And that’s why this group assembled last Tuesday. We needed see the sour lemons we were dealing with and be reminded that those numbers represent names. Names so important to the future of Grant County that we have no choice but to make something resembling lemonade.

3 Comments
  • Sherri
    Posted at 17:55h, 24 May Reply

    LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!!!! <3

  • Bonnie Webb
    Posted at 19:51h, 24 May Reply

    Excellent read Dawn. Yes, you reached for the stars & grabbed them. Very proud of you. You have made an awesome difference in your community.

  • Geri Murray
    Posted at 13:53h, 27 May Reply

    Refreshingly informative and honest, Dawn, and knowing your penchant for action, Grant County WILL be turning those stats upside-down soon and being the example for the rest of us.

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