A small amount of grant dollars and a big lift from Quad-City librarians has pushed a community discussion on how to best help children to actually achieve the American Dream.
The local effort coalesced around a book, "Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis," by author and social scientist Robert Putnam.
Putnam spoke in the Quad-Cities in December, and community organizers vowed to take the experience beyond that one-day event, said Kelly Thompson, vice president of Community Foundation of the Great River Bend, Bettendorf. The effort includes the United Way of the Quad-Cities Area.
This is the first generation that does not have the opportunities their parents and grandparents had, Putnam writes in the book. The gaps can't be solved by schools, alone, however.
"This is a community project," Thompson said.
Since the focus is on a specific book, Thompson and others reached out to librarians for the best way to get the cultural messages out to the public, book by book.
"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel," she said. "We wanted more people to read the book and talk about the ideas in it.
"We know a lot of people in the Quad-Cities care about these topics."
The Moline Public Library's Lisa Powell-Williams was the first to respond, and the "Our Kids" initiative ultimately included eight public libraries in the Quad-Cities.
When the effort ran out of Putnam's book to distribute, organizers contacted Simon and Schuster, Putnam's publisher. Eventually, they bought every discounted copy of the book available in the United States, Thompson said, and the libraries passed those out, too.
Each library used a method that was best for its constituency, Thompson said. Among them were book clubs and special programming. Moline took its program on the road and made presentations to organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley.
Experts who could speak on major themes in the book were recruited for the Davenport Public Library's part in the rollout. These sessions continue into March with a focus on guided book discussions, Amy Groskopf, library director, said.
"A number of Davenport residents face the challenges that Putnam talks about in his book," she said. "We hope the book discussions convene conversations ... on what things we can do. What services can we offer to assist with bridging the achievement gap, the opportunity gap?"
The Davenport discussions include overviews on what's happening in the city, in the schools, in housing and inside homes.
Adult students may be chasing the American Dream, but they are concerned about more basic problems, such as getting an education, Sarah Rissler said.
Rissler is lead teacher for adult basic education at Scott Community College's west campus in Davenport. She led the library's discussion on Saturday about education.
"A lot of adult students come to us thinking they cannot get more education, and that's just not true," she said.
Although they might have heard or thought differently, Rissler works to help the students understand the various ways they can learn as a way to achieve their dreams.
She also works with students who want more than a high school education to continue in community college or at the college level.
Speaking on housing issues on March 11 will be Latrice Lacey, director of Davenport Civil Rights Commission. Lacey is especially concerned about children in the economic and opportunity gap, and she will speak on the effects of race on these issues.
"We discuss, basically, the outward things we see and the impact of housing discrimination that has created pockets of violent and depressed neighborhoods," Lacey said.
The gaps also impact implicit bias, she said.
"People who have the economic means not to live in a neighborhood, they typically choose not to live there," she said, going instead to areas that offer better schools and economic opportunities.
This results in self-segregation as residents choose neighborhoods where people are like-minded, Lacey said.
Not having interactions with other races fuels stereotypes, she said, and it all adds up to implicit bias in communities of the Quad-Cities.
"You have to be aware of this," Lacey said. "People are uncomfortable about facing it, but change has be be very intentional."