This was written by Meagan Erhart, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the Maine Afterschool Network. She has focused on expanding access to afterschool meals in her state and has picked up helpful tips on building connections through collaboration.
Partnerships are so important! When I first started my position, the thought of reaching out to enough of this big state to have even a small impact was daunting. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has felt this way. By partnering with various local and state organizations I have been able to reach out into areas without physically being there and have a greater impact than I otherwise could have. These are some of the strategies that have worked for me:
Connect with your state AmeriCorps office. There are AmeriCorps volunteers working in nonprofits and afterschool programs who may not know about your state network yet. Spread your message widely. Reach out to afterschool providers, but reach out to different groups as well! Parents, educators, other child care providers and various nonprofits can all help spread the word about you. Look for workshops and trainings where you can present or table.
Reach out to nonprofits that are doing related work. To me, this means anyone who is working to improve the health and well-being of children through diet and exercise. Meet with people from these groups to talk about the work that you are doing. Mention them as a resource on your network’s website or monthly newsletter, and ask them to mention you. The structure of larger nonprofits can be really beneficial for doing outreach work over long distances. Let’s Go 5-2-1-0 has dissemination partners who do work in afterschool programs throughout Maine; now I have a lot of people around the state who know about the work I am doing and can connect me with people in areas I would not have been able to physically reach. University cooperative extensions are also a great resource for long distance connections.
Another great connection is your local or state food bank. In Maine we have one big food bank that functions as the umbrella organization for local pantries around the state. They also provide food for afterschool programs and other community groups. By connecting with them, I was able to mention the at-risk meals program in their newsletter that goes out to these various community organizations. They also provide educational cooking classes through Cooking Matters, which is something that a lot of afterschool program providers have been really excited about.
There are so many great organizations working on food security and nutrition education; by collaborating I think that we are able to get so much more done than any single organization can alone. These connections have also made doing outreach a little bit easier for me because now, in addition to reaching out to afterschool program providers, I have afterschool providers in low-income areas contacting me. Every state is different so I’m sure there are things that you may do in your state that I didn’t mention. I would love to hear about what everyone else is doing in the comments!