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Posted January 25, 2016

Brand launch for Evanston Cradle to Career, a collective impact initiative

Jell loves Evanston. It’s a city known for its rich culture, racial and ethnic diversity, sense of community, and commitment to higher social ideals. But Evanston is still a work in progress. Communicating the issues at hand became central to our branding and messaging engagement with Evanston Cradle to Career.

Despite Evanston’s many advantages and resources — there’s no shortage of well-intentioned teachers and helpful nonprofits — many of its youth struggle in school or fail to find a path to a fulfilling future. That’s why Evanston Cradle to Career (hereafter, EC2C) was created — to dramatically improve the chances for every child in Evanston.

EC2C is a collective impact initiative — a partnership of schools, nonprofits, businesses, faith-based institutions, and individuals committed to the idea that every child in Evanston deserves a path to a fulfilling and productive life. In a collective impact initiative, partner organizations commit to common goals and pledge to collaborate, share data, and hold each other accountable.

By the time we began our relationship in mid-2015, 27 Evanston organizations had already joined as formal partners. Our initial conversations with ten of the partners provided us a very good sense of both the ambitious goals of the initiative and the many challenges inherent in orchestrating a collective impact effort.

Not least among these challenges was how we could capture the essence of EC2C concisely and convey it in language equally engaging to all Evanston residents, from community leaders to elementary school students. To get a better sense of our target audiences, we asked to meet with members of the community who might be either beneficiaries of the collective impact effort (e.g., students and parents) or prospects for engagement or volunteerism (e.g., teachers and other mentors).

The resulting workshop, which included six youth and seven adults, was extremely informative. The impassioned discussion helped focus our thoughts on prioritizing key themes (such as the impact of racism and income inequality), messaging to multiple audiences within Evanston, and encouraging open and honest community engagement.

Jell presented its branding, messaging, and website recommendations in October 2015 and worked with EC2C leadership over the next month to fine-tune both the visual identity and key messages now evident in the Evanston Cradle to Career website.

A key element of the home page is a parade of young Evanston residents, representative of both the community’s highly-prized diversity and the collective nature of the effort. In the course of an all-day photoshoot, we captured iconic images of over 160 Evanston youth ranging in age from 2 to 18. The shoot was unlike any we’ve undertaken before, averaging about 16 portraits per hour. To sweeten the deal for the teachers and the kids who participated, we printed the best shot of each on a portable dye-sub printer so that every subject could walk out of the shoot with a professional 4x6 portrait. With the exception of one or two bashful youngsters, everyone loved the opportunity to hop on a stool and shine for the camera. The resulting procession of portraits is an amazing way to meet the future of Evanston.

EC2C has grown considerably during the short course of our engagement, now with 37 formal partners. The community of Evanston has every reason to be proud of this initiative and optimistic about the prospects of the city’s youth.