October 2023 Partner Plan Act Newsletter

October 6, 2023
“It is our dreams that point the way to freedom.” –Audre Lorde 

CS3 Updates  

Farewell to Grace Araya, Vice President of Community Impact 

On October 6, Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) celebrated Grace Araya’s last day as Vice President of Community Impact. Grace joined Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) in 2018 as the Director of the Community Systems Statewide Supports (CS3) team where she built from the ground up and led the statewide technical assistance and training (T/TA) program for community collaborations. She also provided leadership in the Regional and Community Systems project for Birth to Five Illinois. In August of 2022, Grace was promoted to VP of Community Impact where she oversaw ten programs. Grace will begin the next phase of her career as the President and CEO of Concordia Place. 

Before leaving, CS3 had a chance to sit down with Grace and look back at her tenure at IAFC. 


What are some highlights during your time at IAFC? 

The earliest one is the launch of the Partner Plan Act Collaboration Institute in 2018 where we had two cohorts. We had a lot of active participation from members during that time. 


There was also leading racial equity work, not just externally through CS3, but also internally through the Racial Equity Workgroup, an agency-wide effort. We had close to 25 staff members, including the executive team, participate and review organizational assessments. Some of the outcomes of this initiative were creating a position dedicated to continuing racial equity work and developing a community board. 


What are some of your proudest achievements?

One of my proudest achievements is doing this community systems development work, specifically around designing a statewide training and technical assistance (T/TA) program that is responsive to communities and their current needs. A significant part of this was collectively defining and articulating values that centered on equity. It was deeply gratifying to align the work with these values. 


What will you miss?

I will miss being able to come alongside so many different communities and supporting them on their journey to achieve collective impact.


I also loved getting together with my team and other like-minded people; they provided peer-learning communities where we were able to talk about how we could improve the lives of children and families. 


The idea of working together in a significant way by strategizing, designing, collaborating, and making connections in the work to systems and the world, that’s what I’ll miss the most. 


What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned ?


The importance of co-designing with communities and families, to create space for people most impacted by systems so that they can show up and work together. 


And to really think about your values, framework, and approach, how essential it is to communicate and articulate your values as you go along in your work. 


Any imparting wisdom that you’d like to share?


What we have today, these systems, are created by people. And so, we also need to be a part of redesigning and rethinking about how these systems can be rebuilt for children and families. 


While it may seem hard and results don’t come overnight, it’s something that we need to continue in because of how important and impactful this work is, how we have a part to play in these systems, and how we have the opportunity to be a part of the change. 

For those of us in community systems development (CSD) work and the early childhood education and care field (ECEC), we’ve seen how much Grace has embodied values of equity and collaboration and been impactful in the statewide CSD system. While she certainly will be missed, we are excited and wish her well as she continues to work in ECEC. 


To stay connected, visit Grace’s LinkedIn page. 

New Director of CS3Brittain Ayres 

The CS3 team is very excited to announce that Brittain Ayres is the new Director of CS3! Brittain has been a part of the CS3 team for the past three years, leading the Community-Based Planning project in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and more recently the Regional Community Systems project, which provided training and technical assistance to Birth to Five Illinois. Brittain’s experience in community systems development includes working as a community collaboration backbone staff, participating in community collaborations, and providing technical assistance to community collaborations. Her professional work has focused on supporting communities in using data and research to develop community plans and proactive approaches to addressing a range of issues in their communities. 

Brittain is excited to lead the CS3 team as we continue to work alongside local collaborations in the next five-year cycle of the CS3 project. She is passionate about working with communities to build and expand an early childhood education and care system that fits their communities specific needs. She’s grateful for the community leaders and members that she has had the opportunity to work with throughout Illinois and is excited to meet and support more community systems stakeholders across the state.  

Brittain earned a Master of Public Affairs degree at The University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. As a new parent herself, Brittain has a whole new understanding and appreciation for the work that local collaborations and community stakeholders are doing in Illinois. 

Congratulations, Brittain! 

North Lawndale Early Learning Collaboration Implements IRIS 

The North Lawndale Early Learning Collaboration is located on the west side of Chicago and its mission is to ensure that families with priority needs and children birth-8 years old have the resources to engage and enroll in quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs. Since 2013, the collaboration has brought together almost 100 community partners across North Lawndale to promote a ‘no wrong door’ approach for families to increase access and sustain enrollment in ECEC services. The diverse set of partners range from home visitors, Early Interventionists, child care programs, WIC, school, health care providers, mental health organizations, and more. 


The collaboration has successfully leveraged these partnerships to create a referral pipeline to identify and share information on ECEC programs with families with young children. The focus has been to ensure that young children are prepared and ready to learn in preschool and kindergarten. 


When CS3 announced the Integrated Referral and Intake System (IRIS) project in spring of 2023, the collaboration saw it as a great opportunity to enhance their referral pipeline and further reach families in the community. In particular, they sought to increase collaboration amongst partners, track and increase family enrollment in services, close the loop on communication and referrals, and manage waitlists for programs. 


After being selected for the CS3 IRIS project, the collaboration began the implementation work in July 2023. Illinois Action for Children, the lead organization for the collaboration and IRIS, brought on Dolores Alvarado as the Community Engagement Specialist to lead the work. Dolores identifies as a lifelong learner with a seasoned background in marketing and hospitality. She has been using her skillsets and experiences in meeting with partners one-on-one to further strengthen relationships and introduce partners to IRIS. 


Currently, the collaboration is in the second of five implementation phases, “Planting Seeds,” which focuses on identifying partners and securing their engagement in the IRIS implementation work. Dolores has been meeting with core partners regularly and with the full collaboration to develop a shared vision for IRIS in the community, provide an overview of the implementation process, and conduct partner mapping. 


The collaboration has also been completing a pre-implementation survey, a support included in the project and provided by the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR), the providers of IRIS. It has been a great way for partners to understand IRIS and its benefits for their community. Once the implementation work is complete, CPPR will conduct a post-implementation survey which will provide the collaboration with data on how IRIS has impacted their collaboration, communication, coordination of referrals, and reach of families. 


During this implementation phase, the IRIS Leadership Team has also completed the systems and data management training which includes managing organizational profiles and referral fields in the online platform, monitoring referral data, and generating reports. Throughout the project, the IRIS leadership team has been meeting regularly and receiving technical assistance support from CPPR. 


Dolores has shared that the strength of the North Lawndale community and collaboration has been their resilience. Many of the partners themselves are community members or live in a nearby neighborhood. They bring to their work an intimate understanding of the community’s needs as well as grace, compassion, care, and commitment to the work. Dolores hopes that with the launch of IRIS in North Lawndale, the collaboration will gain a sense of achievement by seeing data that affirms their impact on their community. She also hopes that it will further their momentum and passion in ensuring all of North Lawndale’s families are connected to all the services that they need.  

Thanks to Dolores Alvarado, Community Engagement Specialist, Rarzail Jones, Assistant Director of Community Connections, and Alex Bui, Director of Community Parenting Support Saturation Program. To learn more about North Lawndale Early Learning Collaboration’s work and IRIS implementation, contact Dolores Alvarado. 


CS3 is still looking for a second community participant. If interested, please find more information under “Resources.”  


Birth to Five Illinois Funding Opportunity for EC Collaborations 

Birth to Five Illinois announced a $600,000 funding opportunity for existing local early childhood (EC) collaborations and the establishment of new EC collaborations in areas of the State that do not have them. Awards range from $50,000 – $80,000 per recipient. The grant funds must be used towards strategies to increase enrollment in early childhood education and care. The grant cycle is November 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024, and applications are due at 11 pm on October 27, 2023. 

To learn more, click here. For questions, contact grants@birthtofiveil.com. 


CS3 is Hiring – Assistant Director 

The CS3 team is hiring an Assistant Director! The team is looking for a driven, outgoing professional motivated to impact systems through collaborative work, innovative thinking, and a racial equity lens. This position will create, implement, and track the scope of work for Illinois Action for Children’s contract with the Illinois State Board of Education for Community Systems Development Training and Technical Assistance, manage the operations and processes of the CS3 team, and oversee other responsibilities. 

For more information and to apply, visit here. 


Registration Reopens for BUILD23! 

This year’s BUILD Conference: Strengthening Systems, Improving Quality, Advancing Equity has been rescheduled to be both virtual and in-person. The virtual conference will take place Monday, November 13 through Tuesday, November 14. Even if you are not available to join on the dates of the virtual conference, you will still have access to all the content. 

The in-person conference has been relocated to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles and will take place from November 29 – December 1. Use this link to make your hotel reservation at the Westin Bonaventure, which charges $182/night plus taxes. Make your reservation as soon as possible, as room blocks always sells out. 

If you have previously registered for the conference, you do not need to register again. 

For more information, visit the BUILD site. 


IRIS Implementation Opportunity Available  

CS3 is still looking for one more community interested in launching the Integrated Referral and Intake (IRIS)platform in their community. The cost of implementation and access to IRIS is covered by CS3 through June 2024 and technical assistance will be provided by the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR)and CS3.  

For more information or to apply, contact Deb Hwang. 

Upcoming Trainings 

IRIS Quarterly Leader Lab | Wednesday, November 8, 10 – 11 a.m. 

The University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR) will facilitate the next quarterly IRIS Leader Lab on November 8, 10 11 a.m. This meeting will focus on promoting engagement in community and partner meetings, including generating meaningful agendas to develop or identify engagement strategies that increase partner participation.  

For more information, contact Maria Winter.