Nearly 90 percent of children who attend Howe Community School in Green Bay, WI, come from economically disadvantaged households. With the sole mission of eliminating the barriers these children and families face in achieving success in education, the Howe Community Resource Center (HCRC) was founded 23 years ago. Starting in a single classroom within the school, HCRC now has a building next to the school which supports numerous programs for children, parents, and families in the Howe community and Brown County.
Through HCRC and its generous supporters, every Howe scholar receives school supplies, winter gear, and a free bus to school no matter how close a student lives to the school. Its snack program has alleviated the need for teachers to purchase afternoon classroom snacks. And HCRC also provides mental health services to students, as well.
“We’ve seen many successes through these programs, such as increased school attendance with the bus program and reports of better attention and behavior in the classroom following the afternoon snack,” said Amanda Johnson, Executive Director of HCRC.
In addition to school-aged children, HCRC provides programming for parents and families. Its home visit program has assisted parents in achieving GEDs, college degrees, and employment. Families in this program have gained access to quality childcare, improved living standards, self-sufficiency, and parenting skills. HCRC even provides family dinner nights for families and hosts special community events like Trunk or Treat, which welcomed 700 attendees this year.
In 2018, in addressing behavioral issues of middle school students, the Green Bay Area School District partnered with HCRC and the Brown County United Way to pilot a new community school model at Howe Community School. According to the Coalition of Community Schools, Community schools purposefully integrate academic, health, and social services; youth and community development; and community engagement. It draws in school partners with resources to improve student and adult learning, strengthen families, and promote healthy communities.
“As the lead partner in the community school pilot, HCRC is very excited to be supporting significant gains in student achievement, both academic and nonacademic,” said Johnson.
Earlier this year, HCRC was selected to participate in the Green Bay Community Foundation’s Give Big campaign, allowing the organization to raise $65,000 in a 24-hour period. Through this significant boost of funds, the organization was able to sustain its snack and other programs. HCRC was also able to bring in JusTme, a hip-hop artist and mindfulness instructor for weeklong programming that reinforced the importance of school and mindfulness key concepts: being present, being aware, using our thoughts and emotions, and embodying self-love and care.
Amanda Johnson joined the HCRC team in July 2012. Prior to this, she worked as a case manager for families experiencing homelessness, as well as in crisis intervention. She received her Master’s degree in Social Work from UW-Oshkosh in 2011. We had a chance to ask Amanda a few questions about nonprofit leadership. Here’s what she had to say.
What are some things you know now that you wish you knew when you first started as a non-profit leader?
I wish I knew that it was okay to not be okay sometimes. The work is exhausting and not always joyful. I wish when I started, I would have put less pressure on myself and reached out for support. So many people offered support but I had the mantra that “I can do this on my own.” Luckily, I know this now, fully recognize it is vital to my career, and enjoy my participation in peer support groups.
What has been your biggest source of pride as executive director?
I would have to say the renewed relationship with Howe Community School and the school district. When I first became the leader, it was necessary to really start over and re-establish relationships. As a result of this, we have been able to do incredible things!
What are your biggest accomplishments in your career as a nonprofit leader?
1. Being named the lead partner in the community schools initiative.
2. Leading my staff to become blue-ribbon accredited for Parents as Teachers
3. Being named National Parent Educator of the Year in 2017.
What are the dominant challenges that you see nonprofit organizations facing and what you do think are viable solutions?
Our families’ needs are increasing and, now more than ever, the need to meet mental health and housing needs is paramount. For any of us that work with children and youth, if we can’t address the basic human needs, we can’t expect children to learn successfully. We use a cartoon of a student coming into school with a backpack full of the issues they face; trauma, homelessness and hunger … if those needs aren’t met, the child is not ready to learn. Of course, we need more funding to help in this but I think we can also collaborate more with other partners. We have incredible non-profits in the Green Bay community and we need to work together. We have started this work with the community schools, and I look forward to what the future holds!
What aspects of nonprofit accounting do you find most challenging?
All of it! I truly appreciate Hawkins Ash, especially Brianna and Becky who are so patient with me! To be honest, when I first started, it was crazy. I had a very quick training on the job for the position so there was a lot that wasn’t covered. Both of these ladies have truly saved me multiple times and calmed my anxiety. My high school math teacher would be proud of how much I have learned though!
What other executive directors or leaders do you look up to?
I truly can’t say enough about Michael Schwartz at Brown County Oral Health Partnership. He really has been my rock throughout the past two years, and I am in awe of the work he is doing. He is truly a community partner and I can’t say enough about him. I also have to give a shout-out to Robyn Davis, Brown County United Way President and CEO, and Kim Schanock, Coordinator of Community Partnerships and Grants with the Green Bay School District. They knew me when I first started my nonprofit journey after returning to college as an adult, and they both saw something in me that even I didn’t see at the time. I will forever be grateful to them and enjoy working with them side-by-side today.
How do you see the organization changing in the next two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
We are just getting started. We have done some amazing, and some may say impossible, things lately. But watch out, you haven’t seen anything yet! My dream is that in 5-15 years, we will see more kids ready for school, more kids succeeding and attending school, and families truly engaged in this district and beyond. It is starting at Howe but I see a district of many community schools. I see a community that becomes known for the work and the amazing success stories to come. It isn’t going to be easy but it will come. I plan on being here for a long time to support, and maybe sometimes challenge, so that ALL students are healthy, safe, and ready for academic success. A lofty goal, yes, but completely achievable.