Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.
By Mary Aplington, co-chair, Bloomington-Normal Not In Our School
In early September 2020, BN Welcoming and Bloomington-Normal’s Not In Our School (NIOS) organizations established a new and invaluable partnership with Dr. Katy Strzepek and Illinois State University’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE).
Strzepek’s generous collaboration and support came at a critical time. BN Welcoming is a local initiative focused on creating a safe community for immigrants. NIOS is a branch of a national organization whose mission is to create safe and inclusive schools. Each community organization had concerns about the potential for the 2020 election to negatively impact community members, and neither of these had taken any steps to address that concern.
Strzepek’s approach as a thought partner, exploring the conceptual frameworks of the issues, the national and local climate, the emotional and mental health ramifications of the election, and emerging best practices was invaluable. She provided specific information on steps Illinois State was taking as well as the rationale behind each of those. Her focused listening and responsive sharing created trust and provided a wealth of knowledge. The initial conversation and commitment to this partnership led to a subsequent project in which Not In Our Town’s (NIOT) national organization considered post-election needs and the urgency of advance preparation. NIOT responded to this compelling need by creating a widely disseminated post-election focused webinar. NIOT was able to share that with Strzepek.
The partnership with Strzepek and CCE, initiated with a conversation about common missions and specific goals, led to significant communication and the sharing of multiple resources and opportunities in the following months. Strzepak began by sharing Illinois State University’s plan to anticipate and respond to the needs of the campus community. She shared the conceptual framework of their approach as well as specific resources and actions. This guidance helped inform our increasing sense of urgency for such a campaign in our organizations.
Strzepek faithfully provided additional information on the many opportunities and approaches of which she was aware throughout the subsequent weeks. She was generous and diligent in this, resulting in a more robust and comprehensive foundation for BN Welcoming and NIOS. BN Welcoming and NIOS were, in turn, able to share information about community plans and resources as they developed. Communication included follow-up exchanges about the value and application of resources, many of which were online.
While it’s reasonable to speculate that Strzepek had many demands on her time, her reliable engagement in e-mail communication was amazing. Strzepek’s approach to this new Illinois State/community relationship led to the development of a high degree of trust in the CCE as well as an interest in exploring continued collaboration in this area and the potential for future opportunities in other projects. This is something we’ve already discussed, exploring ways in which partnership on projects could benefit both University students and faculty as well as students in local school districts. There are plans for further exploration of these ideas, involving additional Illinois State colleges and faculty in the Spring 2020 semester.
The Bloomington-Normal community is enhanced by Illinois State University’s presence; the Center for Civic Engagement is an outstanding example of the ways in which these partnerships produce powerful impacts. Both NIOS, and BN Welcoming are grateful to CCE for this partnership and enthusiastic about the potential for future opportunities!