“I did not expect to cry.” – King County youth workers feel the love at closing celebration

The Best Starts for Kids Out-of-School Time initiative continues to adapt to meet the needs of our region’s young people and has once again been extended. Current grant recipients will receive funding from January to June 2022, as gap coverage until the next round of Best Starts funding becomes available for application.

“Wait, is this the first time we’re meeting in person?”

“Look how long your hair is!”

“The last time I saw you was literally years ago at this point…”

“Wow, you’re so much taller than I expected!”

Best Starts for Kids Out-of-School Time cohort members were gathering to celebrate the end of their time with the 4-year initiative, but it felt like a reunion more than a farewell. Attendees navigated keeping masks on and personal space while also sharing hugs and genuine excitement to see each other. The last in-person Best Starts OST gathering was SOWA’s 2019 Bridge Conference, and it was clear that attendees were eager to share space among the community they’d cultivated over the course of the initiative.

SOWA’s Best Starts team kicked off the day with some context-setting, appreciations, and data highlights from the work accomplished by initiative members.

Highlights from 2018 to June 2021:

• 12,823 enrollments in BSK OST programs

• 138,517 hours of BSK OST programming

• 1861 hours of coaching provided

• 9817 hours of virtual programming offered

Attendees did not leave empty handed—each organization received a customized data placemat and a young plant provided by booSH Nursery. Data placemats are short, easily digestible, visual representations of data collected, often pulling together data from multiple sources. SOWA has partnered with Public Profit to provide individualized data placemats for each Best Starts OST grantee, as well as for the cohort as a whole. These placemats have grounded annual gatherings and provided a launch point for reflection, collaborative learning, and action. The plants given were tailored to each organization’s programming and represented the ways they grew as a part of this rigorous professional development cohort as well as their contribution to the holistic wellbeing of King County’s youth. The gifts built on this year’s Bridge Conference theme, “From Seedlings to Stardust.”

Cohort members reflected on their time in the initiative and the support they received from SOWA’s Best Starts team via an open mic. Arts Corp shared that they were won over despite being initially resistant to elements of SOWA’s quality improvement framework. They started a theme of appreciation echoed by other organizations that SOWA’s Best Starts team was flexible in their support, and providers were able to determine what made the most sense for the youth they served. “If it fits, it fits and if it doesn’t then we can figure it out.”

The celebration ended with a gratitude activity that had attendees darting around the room to join hands with those who made them laugh, helped them learn, and shared in the ups and downs of the last 4 years. The final prompt was to show gratitude for someone who supported them in partnership and, as if choreographed, a circle formed around the room in appreciation of every single person there.