IDEAS 2016: A round up of outreach innovations
A STAGE FOR THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY
Committed to producing quality, professional theater for the Southeast, North Georgia, and their most devoted supporters in Gwinnett County, Aurora Theatre expanded their Teatro Aurora Spanish-language series with community engagement events, many free to the public, designed to build relationships and audiences. Celebrating the diverse Latin American cultures in Gwinnett County and Metro Atlanta, events range from festivals for Dia de los Muertos and Noche de Velas (a Colombian Christmastime tradition) to evenings of music and dance to critically acclaimed comedians and international guest artists. In just a year, those events have grown Teatro Aurora’s reach from 1,200 to more than 13,000.
“Many of our audience members are relieved to find cultural experiences in their native tongue, and multiple generations of families often attend together,” said Director of Institutional Giving Liz Hartnett. A grant from The National Endowment for the Arts allowed Aurora to hire a full-time project manager, who has built strong connections with community partners and media outlets, and guided the project with an eye toward the future.
In addition to programming more community events for the 2016-17 season, Teatro Aurora will launch a week-long bilingual camp. Aurora has also programmed In the Heights, a story of Latin American identity and family written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as their main-stage season opener. “Our goal has always been to integrate Spanish-language and cross-cultural work,” said Hartnett. “We strive to be a theater that truly reflects our community onstage.”
AN ADULTS-ONLY COOKIE TASTING
Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta (GSGATL) and SweetWater Brewery joined together to host a surprisingly sophisticated cookie party, tapping SweetWater’s staff expertise to pair a variety of Girl Scout cookies with complementary brews. Held in February, before cookies were available to the general public, the exclusive Girl Scout Cookies & Beer Pairing event drew more than 900 people, despite temperatures in the low 20s. In addition to promoting cookie sales—each guest took home a postcard listing cookie-beer pairings and a website for locating nearby cookie booths— GSGATL wanted to re-introduce Girl Scouts to Millennials, the parents of scouting’s next generation and a huge source of potential volunteers and donors. Along with on-site guests, the Cookies & Beer Pairing event attracted bloggers and media outlets, including popular social news website Buzzfeed, whose coverage attracted more than 12 million views nation-wide.
HOW MORE TRIPS MEAN MORE ADVOCATES (NATURALLY)
Since it was founded on a group hike in 1967, Georgia Conservancy has lead excursions to explore the state’s natural wonders. In 2012, they realized that the trips program was taking up resources that might be better spent on advocacy. Rather than cut it, they saw its potential for outreach, education, and networking: “Above all, we’re in the business of conservation,” said the Conservancy’s Senior Director of Development and Marketing Bryan Schroeder. “But people want to protect the places they love: the places they bring their families, where they’ve made a real connection.”
With funding from Solstice Foundation and REI, the Conservancy launched a more ambitious Service Weekend trip series that proved “explosively” popular, leading to further partnerships with outdoors organizations like The Georgia Canoe Association, who approached the Conservancy to manage and expand their paddling excursions, and individual supporters like Atlanta artist Kyle Brooks, whose friendly paintings have been touring the state with Conservancy hikers for a program called Bears Around Georgia.
In four years, the trips program has grown from 10 events per year to 50, and from 200 yearly participants to more than 3,500, with a range of options that ensures anyone can participate. It’s also allowed the Conservancy to build a more complete statewide network of supporters: “Our big trips incorporate a lot of what we do policy-wise, in terms of research into what makes small towns vibrant,” said Schroeder. “That allows us to make meaningful connections with local officials who have been working for years to conserve local resources.”
POWERING THE NEXT GENERATION OF STEM SCHOLARS
Having spent more than a hundred years providing energy to state residents,Georgia Power understands the value of investing in the next generation. To help prepare the leaders of “tomorrow’s highly-skilled workforce,” said Media Strategist Ashley Stukes, Georgia Power launched an education resource program for schools called Learning Power, providing free, customized curricula and materials centered around the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math. That support includes in-class, hands-on lessons from Georgia Power’s own education coordinators covering topics like simple circuits, electricity generation and distribution, achieving energy efficiency, and more.
Since 2011, Learning Power has engaged nearly 360,000 students in 14,000 classrooms statewide, earning praise from 96 of participating teachers, who called it “very effective at educating students about energy efficiency.” Stukes said the program has become a highlight of Georgia Power’s history-spanning commitment to education, which also includes partnerships with Junior Achievement and annual assistance grants for new teachers.
A NEW NETWORK FOR IN-DEMAND NAVIGATORS
As an organization working to increase coverage and access to health care,Georgians for a Healthy Future has been exhilarated to see the state’s uninsured rate drop by 5.5 percent since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2014. They also knew, said ED Cindy Zeldin, “that there was more work to do to ensure that people could make sense of their coverage, access needed health care services, and know where to turn when they faced a problem.”
In response, they created the Georgia Enrollment Assistance Resource (GEAR) Network, a program to connect and support the professionals who help consumers navigate the health care enrollment system. GEAR provides multiple opportunities yearly for enrollment assisters to gather and discuss new research, best practices, and lessons from the latest enrollment period. In addition to live events like luncheons, workshops, and a statewide summit debuting this August, GEAR also offers resources and networking opportunities online: “We work to facilitate information-sharing however possible,” said Zeldin.
Besides unifying professionals and empowering them to best serve consumers, Zeldin added, GEAR has helped improve the system they rely on: “When we identified inaccuracies in provider directories, a tool many use, we successfully enacted state legislation to clean them up and establish standards of accuracy and usability.”
MAKING SERVICE A FAMILY AFFAIR
With demand for kid-friendly volunteer opportunities on the rise, it made perfect sense for Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS)—an organization helping families overcome challenges and thrive—to find more ways to get families volunteering. Staff worked with a team of passionate volunteers interested in helping expand service opportunities, developing guidelines to make it easy for busy parents to sign on. The result is Families Inspired to Serve (FITS), featuring activities appropriate for parents and kids in terms of both skills and time required.
A successful FITS activity, said Marketing Communications Coordinator Sheri Panovka, involves “a mix of education and hands-on fun, and often a simple reward like a snack.” Another key is thinking through the logistics for each age group: “How will a 6-year-old handle this transition compared with a 10-year-old? Will kids get the message, or do we need to explain it differently?” The coordinator and chair of the program, added Panovka, frequently use their own kids as “guinea pigs” for tasks and messaging.
Since launching in February 2015, word-of-mouth and the marketing efforts of their volunteer planning team have created such interest that waiting lists are needed for most FITS activities, which have included sorting donated school supplies, delivering food for Passover, and stocking JF&CS’s Kosher Food Pantry. “We’re touched by parents’ excitement to share their passion for service with their children,” said Panovka. “Parents are even seeking ways to involve entire classrooms.”