The word community is a very powerful and meaningful one for me. You can be a part of a community at your church, in your school, or in your workplace. You can build community among your neighbors or while coming together as a group around the same issue such as early education and child care.
A year of service in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), following university, played a valuable role in setting the path forward for my career in community work. For one year, I was placed as a full-time volunteer community organizer at a nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio. I loved the job so much, I got a full-time (paid!) position for several more years. As an organizer, I worked with residents on issue-based campaigns, such as safety, education, and health, in order to improve and stabilize their community. I noticed a lot of complaints about youth, yet none present “at the table”. In response, I founded Ohio’s first youth organizing program – Teen Neighborhood Leaders (TNL). After I provided some organizing and leadership training for the 12-18 year olds, TNL was off! They quickly and successfully took on issues from park renovations to school capital improvements to public transportation needs to environmental issues.
After one too many snowy winters, I moved back to St. Louis and began a twelve-year career as a community development specialist and Assistant Extension Professor at University of Missouri Extension. I learned even more about community by working with the different organizations throughout the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County in order to co-design and co-develop programs addressing foreclosure, metropolitan food systems, health equity, food policy, and healthy retail programs. Each community was different and had different priorities to tackle; and that’s what we did by bringing the university resources and research together with the local leadership. My diverse career also spanned local government and health care which each had lessons about community in their own way.
My career, thus far, has taught me so much about community and what it means: fight for social justice and equity, listen to those with lived experience, and commit to authentic engagement.
My passion is community planning and development and I am excited to link this with ECE in my new role at Kids Win. I am excited to start planning and researching the early education and child care landscape, and learning more about all of your communities across Missouri. I know I will be able to continue to put all of my lessons about community into play as I begin my new role and I can’t wait to learn what the ECE community means to you! Kara currently resides in Kansas City where she enjoys yoga and volunteering. Kara joined Kids Win in August 2023. Interested in contacting Kara? Please email at firstname.lastname@example.org