Cradle to Career Initiative

Ensuring Rochester youth succeed
By Gina Dewink

Cradle to Career creates access to resources that kids need, when they need them, to be successful from cradle to career. Julie Brock, executive director of the Cradle to Career initiative, says this is done by aligning community resources to shared outcomes, as well as using data to drive the decision-making through the lens of equity. “It takes all of us doing something positive to create a community committed to equitable success of all youth,” Brock states.  

Cradle to Career came to life in 2015 when the three Rochester Rotary Clubs came together to align efforts around education, after identifying it as a critical community gap. The groups gathered data, held community interviews, researched other U.S. cities that were using the StriveTogether framework and obtained a Rotary grant to conduct a community summit. By 2016, they had linked up with United Way of Olmsted County, who had been seeing the same opportunities for improved community health through better educational outcomes.

StriveTogether, the group’s national nonprofit partner, says, “Communities are often program-rich and system-poor.” Cradle to Career is infrastructure so there can be real focus on the work of bettering the lives of youth. Brock states, “We are the system that elevates the hard work of our partners. We figure out how we can do this work together—not ‘for or to’ but ‘by and with.’”

Since Cradle to Career is a systems approach that asks for a community commitment to a community opportunity, it’s not adding additional programs. It is creating a system in which partners continue to support children individually, with the collective goal of increasing every child’s chances of career excellence. Brock relays, “Career excellence, to us, means a livable wage. A livable wage allows people to break generational poverty, break down barriers within systems to create opportunity for growth and autonomy. This is what a strong economy looks like—happy, diverse people living in an inclusive community committed to each individual’s success as if it is their family.” Brock goes on to explain that Cradle to Career helps achieve this goal “because the collective will allow us to amplify the great work our community partners are doing to create positive change in the lives of our youth.”

The community partners are doing the important work of changing lives in positive ways every day. At recent kick-off meetings for the Kindergarten Readiness and High School Graduation collaborative action networks, there were representatives from across public and private sectors that came together to share data, learn from one another and consider committing to Cradle to Career. Brock says of the meeting, “We support our partner organizations by providing data analysis and facilitation so they’re not spending precious resources on that capacity. Instead, we provide that—allowing them to do the great work of positively changing lives without being tied down. The real stories we hope to amplify are the stories of our partners, who have been working tirelessly for our community for years.” 

Currently, Cradle to Career has seven collaborative action networks that span from prenatal up to career excellence. Brock believes there is a place at the table for every community member. She says, “We are starting with Kindergarten Readiness and High School Graduation, so if someone identifies as wanting to work in one of those areas, we welcome them to join us by contacting our Cradle to Career facilitator.”

One of the community partners, Families First of Minnesota, found that just 30% of our youth are developmentally ready to enter kindergarten, according to data sourced from Rochester Public Schools and the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. And based on Boys & Girls Club of Rochester’s work in the area of high school graduations, Rochester is at around an 86% on-time high school graduation rate, per the data from the Minnesota Department of Education’s data. The graduation rate for students receiving free or reduced lunches is just 74%.

Brock finishes with a powerful statement about the program. She states, “We are committed to equity. It is at the heart of every decision. This isn’t about creating blanket responses, it is about studying and implementing best practices and learning how they work best in our community. We can learn from the 70 other communities doing this work, but all systems change is built on the individual resources within our unique community. It is important to remember that this is slow and steady work and not about quick fixes. If we only pursue the low-hanging fruit, we miss out on the sweetness of that fruit at the top of the tree that needs time to grow, time to flourish and time to become the best it is supposed to be.”

To participate in the Kindergarten Readiness and High School Graduation action areas, contact Kristina Wright-Peterson at To join the mailing list and learn about upcoming opportunities, visit and sign up

Spring Community Report Meeting
Wednesday, May 1, 2019, 4-6 p.m.
John Marshall High School cafeteria
Light supper, highlight of the work of the last six months and community input gathering

Fall Community Report Meeting
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Time and location to be determined

Gina Dewink is a writer, author and communications manager living in Rochester with her husband and two small children.