Community Leader Spotlight with Jennifer B. Lyle of Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative

Jennifer B. LyleJennifer B. Lyle is the executive director of Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative (BBK) in Richmond, Calif. For over 20 years, Jennifer has actively worked towards the well-being of young people and their families. Her education and work have taken place in the streets, across continents, with community organizations, government, schools, and academia. Jennifer has designed and directed various community- and site-based projects that focused on economic justice, academic achievement, substance abuse prevention, health promotion and community-directed leadership development and change. She received her Master of Social Work, Master of Sociology and PhD in Social Work and Sociology from the University of Michigan.

Q: What work in your community are you most excited about right now?
A: I am most excited about our work to build and establish community-directed and maintained evidence-based services in Central Richmond, CA.  With this work, we focus on the nearly 1,800 families associated with the four schools we support. BBK is building upon established partnerships with school site staff and the school district, while simultaneously bringing up the capacity of community residents to ensure that they are skilled in understanding how to refine systems and how to get and sustain needed programs and services for their children’s schools. While the focus is healthy activity, the work also addresses issues such as academic enrichment, digital and technological access, social cohesion and mental health needs. 

Since 2010, BBK has continued to build upon the momentum of successful partnerships with families by deepening and sustaining relationships between parents and school site staff, and developing strategies for supporting healthy changes at schools in partnership with principals and parents. Key to this progress has been a willingness to slow down with process and recalibrate when necessary. Much of the relationship management work has involved identifying opportunities and momentum for change where school climate is concerned: specifically, increasing opportunities for dialogue and transparency, and building trust between parents and school site staff.

Consequently, we’ve seen explicit, increased support from principals who have been champions of healthy change generally, and necessary allies in the pursuit of structural or cultural shifts at their schools.  BBK has remained agile throughout this work: we are able to identify and pursue emerging priorities that have resonance among multiple stakeholders (e.g. parents, teachers alike) such as school nutrition and attendance. We have also been able to take steps toward long-term infrastructure supports for healthy change, such as training parents to take leadership roles on School Site Councils.

Q: What keeps you doing this work?
A: I continue to do this work because it interests me. I believe strongly that investing my skills and energy in the work of developing successful communities will have important repercussions now and in our future. This work is also valuable to me because I’m a relational person who enjoys being challenged and thinking strategically. I also value working in partnership with people who are committed to, and invested in, creating the best world possible. My colleagues and the parents of this community are some of the smartest, resourceful and gracious people that I have ever met and I learn from them daily.

Q: What successes in your community are you most proud of? 
A: I am proud that we have been able to sustain this work through quite a bit of painful growth. A significant portion of our staff comprises residents of this community, a few of whom have risen through the ranks into leadership roles. I am very proud that we continue to grow and hear from parents that the work we do is relevant and making a difference in their individual lives, the lives of their children and in their communities.

Q: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
A: Being compassionate means that I consider barriers folks might be encountering that prevent them from being their best selves and doing their best work. When I have been able to draw on compassion with grace, I have been able to get the best out of allies, partners, staff, residents and myself.

Jennifer B. LyleBuilding Blocks for Kids Collaborative in Richmond, CA has been part of the GradNation Communities Network for a number of years and their engagement with America’s Promise includes technical assistance around parent engagement as well as hosting a GradNation Community Summit.

Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative hosted a GradNation Community Summit on August 23, 2014. The Richmond Summit, Missing School=Missing Out/Perdiendo Escuela=Estas Perdiendo focused on engaging parents, students, educators, and community change agents. By working across business, service and philanthropic agencies to create greater awareness, the summit was able to increase engagement and stimulate coordinated action towards improved attendance at West Contra Costa Unified School District schools.