Our board recently challenged us to consider ways we could use public policy engagement to support our investment in the community and programmatic work. The timing of this request and the StriveTogether Policy & Advocacy 101 training was perfect. I was able to gain valuable knowledge and skills to help me respond to our Board’s challenge. United Way of Central New Mexico (UWCNM) intends to engage in public policy to support and protect our grant making and programmatic work, like our cradle-to-career education initiative, Mission: Graduate.
This year we are launching three multi-year grants that will fund projects that work to implement three of Mission: Graduate’s collaborative strategies: summer learning loss, reduction in chronic absences and adult transitions to college. As a first step toward advocacy, UWCNM and Mission: Graduate recently partnered with the city of Albuquerque, the Early Childhood Accountability Partnership and the University of New Mexico Center for Education Policy Research to provide an opportunity for our donors, volunteers, community members and lawmakers to learn about summer learning initiatives in our community. The event focused on the findings of the Utah State University five-year study on New Mexico’s K-3 Plus program, a program that seeks to reduce summer learning by providing qualifying students an additional 25 school days during the summer.
Educational events like this will be the flagship public policy offerings of UWCNM as we explore our capacity for further advocacy. We hope to use our access to research and the lived experiences of our agency partners and their consumers to provide valuable policy-related information to our donors, volunteers, lawmakers and community members.
We are in the early stages of public policy engagement, but as we deepen that engagement, the training’s effective mix of technical and legal information, coupled with capacity-building materials, will serve as a valuable resource. I have used the knowledge I gained at the training to facilitate the foundational process work, while keeping in mind the elements that will help drive our work forward in a meaningful and thoughtful manner. I will use both the technical information and capacity-building resources as we move from the planning phase into action and advocacy. I strongly encourage organizations seeking to increase their understanding of public policy, and their capacity for public policy-related work, to consider attending a future training.
Heba Atwa-Kramer is the director of community impact at United Way of Central New Mexico (UWCNM). She is part of the team that thinks about how to maximize the impact of UWCNM investments in her community and staffs the organization’s complementary public policy work. In this role, Heba has the opportunity to spend every day working to improve the health, education and financial stability of central New Mexico.