Communication as Collaboration

Cakey the Doll

If you’re a regular reader of the PDG newsletter, you’ll be aware of the collaborative efforts between organizations connected to grant initiatives, collaborations built on sometimes small moments of communication. A few that have been highlighted in the newsletter arose from breakout rooms at monthly Nebraska Leadership Team meetings. You may have read, for example, of the joint effort between Sixpence and Getting Ready that began as a breakout room conversation between Steph Renn and Lisa Knoche (see “Beautiful Moments in Collaboration”). Or you might have read of how Communities for Kids Noelle Wegner worked with Kerry Miller from the Munroe-Meyer Institute to try to combine Ready Rosie’s “Modeled moments” with the Institute’s “Milestone Moments” (“Baby Steps in Collaboration”).

These small watercooler moments can be transformative for interorganizational connections and growth, but official communication can be crucial to creating collaboration as well, particularly when efforts reach across physical distance to unite groups that don’t often come into contact. In April of 2021, a blog post designed to draw an audience for a bilingual event planned for Madison and Dakota Counties, caught the eye of Erika Felt, an in-home provider from neither of the two counties. But she was so intrigued that she contacted Early Childhood Community Coordinator Shelina Williams for her home county of Douglas and asked if she could attend.

The event, created by Abagail Gustad and conducted by Angelina Fregoso, presented two sessions, one for English speakers and one for Spanish speakers, in which attending providers could hear the lived experiences of bilingual children and their families and could try new techniques to help Spanish-speaking students acclimate to and feel more comfortable in a new environment. Attendees received continuing education credit and a set of toys designed to speak to Latinx cultural experiences.

 Even though Erika would not receive credit, she saw the potential the training had not only for Spanish-speaking students, but also to broaden the cultural awareness of her English speakers. After contacting Shelina, Erika did receive the set of toys thanks to PDG funds. And from there, things blossomed.

Enter Cakey the Doll. Among the more culturally appropriate food sets and the Spanish-English books was a brown-skinned plush doll. Erika, who had been working with a bilingual child reluctant to embrace his Mexican heritage, immediately saw the potential of the doll. She offered it to the boy, who named it Cakey, and the two immediately became inseparable. The young boy found in the familiar facial features and the brown skin a reflection of his culture that made him feel at ease to express himself. As Erika said of the boy’s behavior once he found Cakey, “He has been showing pride in his heritage and culture that he has never shown outside of Mexican spaces before.”

Shelina was soon contacted by Erika with the story of how she had posted photos of Cakey, the five-year-old boy, and she playing UNO—the caption: “You haven’t played UNO Flip until you’ve played against a 5yr old and a doll named Cakey. Yes, all three of us played and Cakey won!” The photos and the story had drawn the attention of the boy’s father, who was delighted to see the boy engaged with learning. This gesture toward incorporating the boy’s culture into his learning atmosphere had made all the difference.

Shelina immediately knew that if the toys and training inspired one boy for one Douglas provider, it was likely to have a much bigger impact if offered to a larger group of providers. Because of budget, she started planning a modest 13-provider event, but thanks to a dual effort, she was able to procure enough funding for 50 providers—25 English-speaking and 25 Spanish-speaking.

On Saturday July 31, 2021, Douglas County held the event hosted by Angelina Fregoso for an English-speaking audience at 9 a.m. and a Spanish-speaking audience at 10 a.m. Angelina presented the Latinx toys and demonstrated ways to use them in working with Spanish-speaking children. She pointed out to her provider audience that “there are so many ways to use language with them [children] using toys that are familiar to them.” She also discussed a way of using pictures to communicate initially and as a means of translating terms from Spanish to English so that “within 2-4 weeks the children are talking.” Finally, she emphasized the importance of bridging from the home to the care environment, not only so that the provider knows what is fun for the child but also so the provider is “setting the place for them so they feel like they’re home.” She ended by pointing out that’s how connections are made.

It looks as if the growth of similar bilingual events in the state is inevitable. Shelina said of the event, “I feel like I could offer this training every month if my budget allowed,” and indicated that she had already set aside some of next year’s budget to offer future training.

And so a small event continues to expand, all because of a single piece of communication, a blog post that connected with one reader who decided to take what she’d learned in one county back to her own. For those of you then who are thinking of collaborating or who are seeking ways to expand beyond their immediate area, remember that communication is a way to connect, and even one reader who turns that moment of connection into a personal experience offers valuable word-of-mouth marketing that could make your project grow exponentially.

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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