Q and A with Rachael Steward, Associate Director, Center for Service & Community Engagement
Rachael Steward is a community catalyst
Rachael Steward links community members and Seattle University together in partner-ships built on engagement and common goals. Through her work with the Center for Service & Community Engagement, this Beacon Hill resident is actively involved with the Seattle University Youth Initiative, a long-term com-mitment to neighborhood youth by the univer-sity. What began with involvement from fewer than 30 community organizations today has 60 community partners, all doing their part to help children succeed in school and in life.
Can you describe one of your biggest challenges since you started in 2010?
The Youth Initiative had an action plan in place at the beginning. It included mobilizing students, staff and faculty who could contribute their knowledge. As we learned more about what it takes to reach our desired outcomes, we recognized that without deeper engagement we wouldn’t get what we want for our students or the organizations and residents in our neighbor-hood. We had to examine the needs, successes, challenges and trends in the community and look at our partnerships and how they were changing.
How were those partnerships changing?
We had to seek out community residents, at-tend meetings and activities and host gatherings over coffee to meet them. We realized it didn’t make sense for SU to connect to every proj-ect. At a certain point, we began to determine which strands were most critical and among them we realized that family engagement needed to be addressed immediately.
What did that involve?
Parents wanted to know what’s really happening, what’s going well with the Youth Initiative. The pipeline of school support is strong for kindergarten through fifth grade, but there’s very little in place for children from birth through age 5. Jumpstart is the one early learning piece we have. This is a wonderful op-portunity to be able to steer the energy, begin to make links and see what develops for early learning. Parents want their children to be ready for success in kindergarten. We have en-gaged parents and childcare providers in family literacy. This is a bridge between early learning and parent engagement in K–12 schooling.
What role do you play?
I get to be the catalyst. Sometimes it’s a lot more than being a convener, sometimes not. I get all the organizations together and provide various tangible and intangible resources. I end up chasing down contracts and talking to attorneys to get the details worked out. Then I get to see how everyone learns and grows. This is why I love my work.