Vicksburg Schools Reach Students and Families by Partnering with Businesses and Faith-Based Organizations

Sherrie Williams, former director of Vicksburg Warren School District’s Project SYNC (Schools and Youth in a Networked Community) in Mississippi, knows how to build lasting partnerships. Her secret? “Never limit your partners,” she says. Sherrie’s strategy to include any and all organizations willing to participate encouraged her to consider how her project’s interests and potential partners’ interests overlap—leading to many partnerships with local businesses, the faith-based community, and local nonprofit organizations.

One—perhaps unlikely—partnership Sherrie formed to promote better outcomes for children and families in the district was with the local mall. Every year the mall holds the city’s annual pep rally, a popular event that draws a diverse mix of community members. SYNC thought that this would be a great opportunity to share its work with the community in a fun, light-hearted environment.

The SYNC team understood that the mall hosted the pep rally as a way to increase foot traffic—not necessarily to promote child and family well-being. However, after talking with the mall manager, the mall was more than willing to offer space to SYNC during the event. Sherrie’s team created a booth where they could talk with community members as they attended the rally and educate them about their work and services in a way that was unobtrusive and didn’t detract from the event.

Another partnership was formed with Vicksburg’s strong faith community. Places of worship, Sherrie came to realize, were a venue for reaching parents who were not involved with the schools. By connecting with places of worship whose vision is also related to community and family strengthening, Sherrie effectively identified common interests and created a win-win situation for both SYNC and the faith organizations. Places of worship were glad to offer their space and facilities for SYNC to bring in speakers on relevant family topics, such as bullying prevention and positive parenting.

As a result of having a community presence, school partnerships with nonprofits started to bloom organically. “[SYNC members] are connected with other agencies, and when they would go back and report on what they were doing, [the agencies] would want to know how they could be involved, too,” says Sherrie Her partners took advantage of this interest and formed a Community Management Team to help the initiative become a permanent fixture—and not a single nonprofit turned down the opportunity to be part of this team. “It’s almost like they were starving for opportunities to work with the students,” Sherrie says.

In building lasting partnerships, Sherrie advocates reaching out to all members of the community: “I think it’s important to work with community audiences because every one of these audiences has access to different people and resources that you can engage. It not only benefits you now, but also helps sustain programming long after funding is gone.”

Sherrie Williams

“It’s important
to work with
community audiences
because every one...has access
to different people and resources
that you can engage.”

Vicksburg Warren School District’s Project SYNC