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Guest blog: Postcard project connects program providers with policymakers

By Guest Blogger

By Sara Beanblossom, Director of Communications and Special Events at the Indiana Afterschool Network

As part of our program provider advocacy initiative, the Indiana Afterschool Network is always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to share stories about the power of afterschool. Based on conversations we’ve had with program providers and policymakers, we embarked on a project that would most efficiently:

  1. Create an opportunity for providers, parents, and kids to share their voices on why afterschool is essential to them
  2. Create an opportunity for policymakers to easily hear the feedback from their constituents

Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse suggested a postcard campaign with clear and compelling messages. We borrowed imagery from the Afterschool Alliance’s clear and energetic infographics and worked with Burness, a global communications firm, to repurpose and customize the infographics to tell the specific stories of Indiana. The postcards were designed with clearly-marked blank spaces for personalized feedback and the exact name and location of each program provider.

Distribution and collection

By hosting postcard-writing sessions at conferences and meetings we host statewide, we can easily collect the cards after they are filled in, record the contact information and quotes, and ensure that the cards were mailed in a timely manner.

In April 2016, we distributed and collected versions of our postcards at the Opening Plenary Session of the Indiana Summit on Out-of-School Learning. During the following month, we tallied the names and addresses and posted them directly to the state senate and house representatives who represent each of the program districts. Overall, we distributed 200 postcards to 94 Indiana state legislators.

In 2017, at our annual Summit, we repeated the same process, with the result of sending 127 postcards to all Indiana U.S. legislators. Over the last month we have been distributing and collecting more cards at regional gatherings of program providers and parents across the state. In June 2017, we brought these cards with our Indiana delegation to the Afterschool for All Challenge in D.C. to hand-deliver more local stories to our Indiana providers’ reps.

In addition to the personal postcards, we sent four additional Indiana-specific infographic postcards to all Indiana state legislators during the 2016 and 2017 sessions.

Each time we collect a stack of cards, we record the most compelling quotes and keep track of how many providers have been connected with each legislator, so we can foster existing relationships and help generate new connections between providers and policymakers.

Stories from constituents

Program providers are passionate about sharing the benefits of afterschool. One of the most powerful quotes came from Lee Ann Powell of the Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County.

“Our afterschool and summer programs provide a safe and positive environment for an average of 700 who would otherwise not have a place to go afterschool or in the summer. In the program, they can get academic help, college and career planning, snacks and meals, art programs, STEM programs, and character leadership programs. My community is high poverty, high free and reduced lunch, and contains several provisional schools. Our work and the programs we provide are critical to our community.”

Continued connections

The next steps in our advocacy plan are to continue to deepen the relationships that are being sparked by these quick communications and fold these stories into longer-term communications projects. By enabling afterschool communities to easily and effectively communicate their impact and needs, we can strengthen the relationships between our local providers and those who represent their communities, whether in Washington D.C. or in the local town hall.