The idea for the Youth Initiative arose from a simple question. In 2007 a University trustee asked Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg S.J. “If Seattle University were to focus its community engagement efforts on a particular topic, neighborhood or issue, could it make more of a measurable impact on the community?” Intrigued by the question, President Sundborg gathered together a small group of University leaders to explore ideas. What followed was a three-year planning effort that engaged hundreds of campus and community members in a process that moved from vague concept to a specific plan focusing on the crisis of educational inequality.
Representatives from many Seattle University’s divisions and colleges formed a “think tank” to determine the feasibility of a community engagement initiative. This group unanimously agreed that engaging in such an initiative fit with the University’s mission, core values, and assets, and further determined that the Initiative should focus on low-income youth living within the University’s neighborhood.
A formal planning committee led by John McKay, Professor from Practice, School of Law, conducted research and outreach efforts to develop a vision and focus for the Initiative. The committee conducted research of exemplary models of community engagement at other institutions of higher education including the development of 16 profiles of other models. The group also explored campus and community needs and assets and recommended next steps in the development of the Initiative.
University and community leaders began an ambitious and extensive campus and community outreach strategy. Led by Kent Koth, Executive Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Director of the Seattle University Youth Initiative, the University hosted multiple open fora and outreach meetings to inform campus and community members about the Youth Initiative and solicit feedback.
Additional major Youth Initiative outreach events included Seattle University’s Mission Day in April 2010 and the SUYI Campus-Community Conference held in May 2010. The Campus-Community Conference brought together over 300 members of the Seattle University community and the wider community. Attendees participated in the day-long event to learn about the needs and assets of the neighborhood, to understand the complex strengths and challenges of youth and their families, and to plan what the SUYI should entail.
As a result, of the planning and organizing efforts, hundreds of individuals and dozens of campus and community programs had a strong commitment to the success of the Initiative. In addition, all events yielded valuable information to help determine the strategic direction of the Initiative.
The Children’s Literacy Project, which had been housed in the College of Education since its inception in 1991, merged with Center for Community Engagement to assist with the Initiative. In November 2010, the Seattle University Board of Trustees unanimously approved the SUYI Action Plan and in February 2011, the University launched the Initiative.
Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) received a $30 million HUD “Choice Neighborhood” Grant which included $3 million in additional education support services; SHA asked SU to lead the education effort. SU hired staff to lead the partnership with Gatzert School, facilitate family engagement activities, and develop a data management system. In 2011-2012 Gatzert Elementary students had the highest academic growth of any Seattle School. In March 2012, SU was presented with the President’s Higher Education Community Service Award.