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Change Moves at the Speed of Trust: Community Leader Spotlight with Sara Carter

Sara CarterAs Youth Thrive’s director of operations, Sara Carter works with a variety of community partners to reach more youth in North Carolina’s Wake County by increasing communication, identifying gaps, and aligning resources for youth programs and services.
As the primary convener and collaborator in Wake County for youth-serving professionals and organizations, Youth Thrive serves as a place for every voice to be heard. America’s Promise Alliance heard from Carter about the partnerships in her community, how they’re building a GradNation for all students, what excites her in the field—and what challenges her. Take a look at her answers below:

How does your work help create a GradNation for all?

Real progress toward the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate requires community-level, cross-sector strategies working together to support our schools, our students, and the communities in which they live. 
Academics alone is insufficient, and Youth Thrive as a collective impact partnership, works with a broad range of partners toward our vision of ensuring that all young people in Wake County become thriving adults. Our community of partners— inclusive of our school system, health and human services, government, afterschool providers, law enforcement and the like, have mobilized around the goal of increasing Wake County’s Graduation rate to 95 percent; we are actively building on the 2016 Youth Thrive GradNation event and the action platform which highlights the need to identify and address the non-academic factors impacting school success and to fortify pathways to post-secondary education. 
Specific activities that are helping to create GradNation for all include the launch of the Stand Up! Speak Out! campaign to prevent bullying, a pervasive issue that significantly impacts school attendance and academic performance; over 50 organizations across our county have committed to participating.
Issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are also critical factors in student success, and we provide and facilitate training and capacity building for youth-serving professionals with the goal of reaching at least 200 by 2018. Youth Thrive is also working with partners on efforts to build a college-going culture and a roadmap for college-readiness for those young people traditionally underrepresented on college campuses.  We have developed a College Visit Planning Guide to encourage local youth-serving organizations to take middle school students on college visits along with community planned and supported college visits days for targeted middle schools. 

What successes in your community are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our community’s courage to look at ourselves, to make honest assessments of where we are “falling short,” and to make the necessary changes to honor our commitment to prepare our young people for college, career, and life. 
An example of this was a community convening where Youth Thrive stood side by side with the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, the county manager, the chair of the Wake County Board of Education, and the United Way of the Greater Triangle Executive Director to issue a call to action to help increase the high school graduation rate and to eliminate youth bullying and suicides.  Since that time in 2016, Youth Thrive has mobilized more (40) individuals, representing (25) committed organizations to work on action teams to develop and implement aligned strategies that support educational success and emotional well-being for all youth in Wake County. 

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

Youth Thrive and our partner agencies are all committed to the mutually defined vision for Wake County youth. While we work to advance this shared agenda, we are simultaneously responsible for and must respond to a unique set of organization or agency funded goals and priorities. We may have influence in the development of community strategies and actions that support GradNation, but we have no authority on how the seemingly ever shrinking resources of money, time, and human capital are allocated within the collective.

What principles guide your work in education and youth development?

“Change moves at the speed of trust.” It’s a concept credited to author Stephen Covey, which means that change takes time and can only happen if we have developed trusting relationships with our partners and a real value for their contributions. While we may be able to quote the five conditions of collective impact—a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support—none of these can successfully exist without a genuine level of trust and authentic engagement.  We believe in building consensus on what our collective actions should be, in doing what we say we are going to do, and calling others to do the same.

Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases.

We accomplish more when we all work together!