by Joe Gallant, Outreach Coordinator, Kids Win Missouri
Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” In the midst of times that have tested us all, both as individuals and as a collective, keeping this inalienable truth in mind has never been more important. Divisiveness and uncertainty have all but become the norm, but still, the questions about what comes next for the most vulnerable of our population remain. What kind of future do we want to set up for the next generation? What kind of world do we want our kids to inherit? How can we do our part?
I am immensely proud and excited to join Kids Win Missouri- an organization that has dedicated itself to supporting and ensuring the healthy development of children and families across the state. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have cultivated a career in serving children and families in one way or another. The cultural competencies, trauma-informed approaches, and overall desire to be teachable and practical in discovering ways to better serve kids in Missouri are all skills and characteristics that I’ve developed over the years, and that I hope to bring to the table in my work as Kids Win Missouri’s new Outreach Coordinator.
For the past 8 years, since I relocated to Kansas City from Boston, MA, direct service has been the name of the game for me. I started my career in Missouri with the Division of Youth Services as a Youth Specialist, working directly with juvenile offenders at a secure care facility. In this role, I found myself fascinated with the idea of prevention. I wanted to find a way to do my part in supporting kids, their families, and ultimately the community at large in reaching their full potential by helping them gain access to the basic tools and services that support their healthy development. I then landed a role as a Prevention Specialist with Rose Brooks Center. Rose Brooks, an agency that chiefly operates as a domestic violence shelter, has maintained a strong presence in schools across the Kansas City metro area, teaching kids from pre-K through high school about healthy relationships, coping skills, and resiliency through their Project SAFE prevention program. I also took on a second position at Rose Brooks as a Shelter Advocate, working directly with in-shelter and outreach clients and their families, connecting them with resources, providing them case management and victim advocacy, and ensuring a trauma-informed and culturally competent community living environment.
In the seven years I served in both capacities with Rose Brooks, I learned how important it is in the nonprofit universe to develop strong, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with community partners, including other care providers, community leaders, and the business community. The relationships I built with entities outside of the organization helped shape the legacy I left there, including being a key player in the passage of the Jackson County Children’s Services Fund ballot initiative in 2016, as well as creating a school-based youth leadership program called I-CAN. These accomplishments would not have been possible without the support of our community partners. Relationship building and actively listening to the needs and suggestions of stakeholders are skills that I’ve cultivated for years and hope to continue to develop in my new role with Kids Win Missouri.
Outside of my work with kids and families, I’ve been able to enjoy many other great opportunities for personal and professional growth here in Missouri. It was in Kansas City that I first decided to simultaneously pursue a career in music while working with kids, and I’ve since been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of success in the Kansas City live music scene. The platform that I’ve been allowed to have in Kansas City was graciously provided to me by the amazing musicians and performers who resided here already, and it’s a constant reminder of the embracing nature of the Midwest and the small town-style support for local people. So, if you ever find yourself in the Jazz District on 18th and Vine, stop into the Blue Room or Soiree- you might just see me on the mic!
On a personal note, I can’t put into words how much I love living in Missouri. It has truly become “home” for me over the last 8 years. I moved to Kansas City in 2013, nine months after my father, a Boston Police officer for 25 years, passed away very suddenly. Needless to say, I was in a very vulnerable and impressionable state, living in a completely different region of the country, let alone a new city, after going through such a difficult time and seeing my family dynamic completely change forever. In retrospect, I can’t think of any place I’d rather have been during that time in my life, for no other reason than the amazing people who reside here and who make this the special place that it is. Whether it be Kansas City or St. Louis or the Ozarks or the Bootheel, the people of Missouri have always welcomed me with open arms and given me a comfort that I couldn’t have imagined I’d receive, and I’m forever grateful for that. It’s in the spirit of that gratitude and as a reflection of the love I’ve felt poured on me by Missourians that I’ve dedicated myself to serving kids and families in this great state. I truly believe that our greatest achievements can be seen in the measures we take to build a brighter future for those who come after us, and it is our moral responsibility to put forth every effort to create a better world for the next generation. Again, I’m so proud to be in this position and to be a part of this team, and I look forward to all the great things that are to come for kids and families in Missouri!