Bright Futures: What is it and Where Did it Come From?

Posted by Kim Vann on 12/10/2014 7:00:00 PM

What would you do if one out of every four students in your community dropped out of school prior to reaching graduation? What about one out of every two? Looking back to 1996, Joplin Schools graduation rate was a shocking 54%. By 2008, great gains had been made and the graduation rate had risen to 73.5% but that was still below the state average and was certainly not acceptable. The graduation rate had been an Achilles heel in our community for decades. Change needed to take place but the school district couldn’t do it alone.


One of the first items on Dr. CJ Huff’s 100 day entry plan as the new Superintendent of the Joplin School District in 2008 was to engage the community in an in depth strategic planning process. Over 200 community members from diverse backgrounds participated. Engaging the community with our schools through partnerships with businesses, faith- based organizations, and human service agencies were three of many action plans developed as a result of this process. No one could have imagined that action plans 4, 5, and 6 would be the catalyst for the dynamic community engagement effort that has became known as Bright Futures.

On April 8, 2010, a community breakfast was held and over 150 community decision makers were in attendance. These attendees heard the stories of our children. They heard about teachers who started their days by acting as a mother figure, a father figure, or a social worker. They learned that some children arrived at school without having eaten breakfast, sometimes without having had dinner the night before either.

They heard stories about elementary aged children who had never had the privilege of sleeping on a bed, only on a hard floor or maybe the soft cushions of a couch if they were lucky. Then there were the children who wore shoes held together by duct tape so that the shoes wouldn’t fall off of their feet.

The crowd was shocked and saddened. People who sat in that audience realized they might not be able to teach math facts to an elementary aged child effectively but they knew they had to do something. They realized they could provide food, clothing, and shoes for these children, which would free teachers up to teach. On that morning, something powerful took place in Joplin, MO. Awareness had been created among those that could affect change and the Bright Futures initiative was born.

There are three main components to the Bright Futures framework: meeting any child’s basic needs within a 24 hour period, building leadership capacity in the community, and teaching children how to give back to the community that supports them.

Engaging the community to meet any child’s basic needs within a 24-hour period:

The Bright Futures framework was developed for the purpose of creating a rapid-response system to meet any child’s basic need within a 24-hour period. A core belief of this effort is that every community possesses the resources necessary to meet any need that may arise. The challenge is identifying those resources and connecting those resources to the need. Because of this a three-tiered system of support was developed to ensure the resources that exist are fully utilized. Each tier in the model involves engaging the community and leveraging of resources through what we refer to as time, talent and treasure.

Tier 1 - Existing Community Resources Tier 1 is a value-added approach that supports existing efforts within the community to meet the needs of children and families. Relationships have been established with businesses, faith-based organizations, and human service agencies to ensure a deep understanding of existing resources that allows us to fill needs quickly while at the same time supporting agencies’ efforts to fulfill their organizational mission.

Tier 2 – Facebook In the event Tier 1 resources cannot meet the 24-hour goal, specific needs are posted on our Bright Futures Joplin Facebook page. With over 6,300 fans, both typical and atypical needs are met quickly and a broader based level of community engagement is achieved. In short, posting of these needs continues to allow us the opportunity to maintain the sense of urgency needed for cultural change to occur and provides individuals the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children.

Tier 3 – Eagle Angel Fund Although seldom utilized, a high-needs fund we refer to as the Eagle Angel Fund was created to purchase unique items not available through either Tier 1 or Tier 2. When it is utilized, it is usually to address very difficult issues around homelessness by providing gap funding to support living costs and other expenses while students/families go through the application process with community agencies. Community partners seeking an opportunity to provide financial support often donate to this fund.

Building leadership capacity:

To ensure the long-term stability and longevity of any organization, building leadership capacity is essential. To grow future leaders with a vested interest in continuing the work, having a deep understanding of the system is essential. An early challenge in our program was that most people’s knowledge of school came directly from their own personal experience or that of their children or grandchildren. Times have changed and things have become more complicated. School today is not the same as it was twenty years ago.

We created what we referred to as the Bright Futures Leadership Academy (BFLA) that had a narrow focus...developing future leaders and training them about “all things school related.” Class participants consist of a diverse subset of the community that comes together from local businesses, faith-based organizations, human service agencies, and parents. The series consists of six 3-hour sessions over the course of the program and the goal is to provide participants with a deeper understanding of our school system and the children we serve.

Teaching children to give back:

Fostering the idea of service before self and servant leadership is vital to helping create great neighbors, quality employees, and future leaders.

Through the Bright Futures framework, we give children the opportunity to give back through service learning. Most recently students from a local elementary school helped raise awareness about a curbside recycling initiative that was taking place in the community. Another elementary school raised funds and collected books for the children of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK in an effort to pay forward the kindness they had received after the storm in Joplin. At the high school level, students developed the Color Estes project. They worked with a local nonprofit agency to collect art supplies and deliver them to students in the flood-ravaged town of Estes Park, CO. Through each of these projects, we saw children applying lessons they had learned in the classroom while serving others in a meaningful manner.

The Joplin School District has opened the doors of our schools to our community and welcomed them in with open arms. They have done this by engaging our businesses, faith-based leaders, human service agencies, and parents in the life of our schools at the district, building, and classroom level. We’ve learned that everyone has something to give; they just need to be afforded the opportunity to do so.

Today, through the Bright Futures framework, community resources are quickly connected to the needs of the kids. When a teacher identifies a student with duct tape holding his/her shoes together, no longer is the only solution to pass the hat in the teachers’ lounge to buy a new pair of shoes. Within less than 24 hours, the student has new shoes thanks to a caring community member or engaged community organization.

This past year, Joplin Schools celebrated a graduation rate of 86.6%. They are still working to hit 100% but in the meantime, they are seeing

progress. They are seeing increased attendance and decreased discipline referrals. Every child needs a champion and in Joplin, we’ve found a way to make that happen through the Bright Futures initiative!

We hope you will be able to join us at this year's Bright Futures Community Engagement Conference on February 23 - 24, 2015 at Missouri Southern State University.  In the meantime, learn more about Bright Futures at

Until next time,


Kim is the Executive Director of Bright Futures USA.  You can contact Kim at