The following is from Stacy Gardner, an educator in Caroline County, Maryland.

There are wonderful things happening in Caroline County, Maryland, with the Getting Ahead program. We were successful with our first Getting Ahead Class earlier this year with a class of 10 graduates in May. We were recently in the fifth week of our second group of Getting Ahead investigators. This was a very different group from the first one. We learned so much from each group, and we customized resources based on needs for each group, which helped build a database of resources for our county.

During the time of searching for partners to help sponsor the Getting Ahead program, we were led to Pastor Nichols, who started to believe in the process during our first meeting. Pastor Nichols, volunteers from his church, and Kat Stork Blaher of Shore Strategies LLC sponsored the first group of investigators. Our partnership is continuing to grow. Pastor Nichols offered us continued use of his church space to facilitate our program. We partnered with another group, Fitness in Action of Greater New Hope Church, led by Savannah Winston, who agreed to sponsor our food for this session and two more in 2024.

We didn’t forget about our graduates. The Getting Ahead graduates of the 2023 spring class are helping us develop the Staying Ahead Program. While going through the first Getting Ahead session, we learned that some of the resources that our investigators needed we didn’t have enough time in class to navigate through to get to all that was needed. So once a month, we meet and invite different presenters to come in to share what their job is and how they may help them.

The information we learn from our investigators we take back to our Collective Impact group. We have also invited the investigators to become a part of one or more of our five action teams. We have identified the top five disparities in our county. Shore Strategies is currently facilitating meetings around the county with the leaders of child-serving agencies such as the health department, recreation and parks department, board of education, department of social services, and Choptank Community Health, just to name a few. The five groups center on health and well-being, youth development, early childhood and education, workforce development, and family stability, the latter of which is divided into two subgroups: housing and food stability. We are learning that we are better together and that we can do more if we all come to the table with open minds and hearts to do the work.

Shore Strategies offers a range of services, including strategic planning, organizational systems development, marketing and public relations, grant writing, and staff, volunteer, and board trainings.