Behind the scenes with the CSF board

If you want to know where an organization is headed, ask the folks working behind the scenes. The Children’s Services Fund of Jackson County Board of Directors has a birds-eye view of the fund’s past, present and future thanks to their dedicated oversight. Made up of representatives from each of the six legislative districts in Jackson County, the board works with our leadership team to help fulfill the CSF mission: Investing in Children. Strengthening Community. 

Board Chair Jessica Ramirez is a lifetime Jackson County resident and second-generation immigrant. She first heard about the CSF from one of its early champions, Barb Friedman, who Jessica worked with at The Coalition for Collaboration and Project Aim. Jessica is now the Vice President of Advancement at Cleveland University-Kansas City.

Vice Chair Amy Harris is the child of second-generation immigrants and was taught the value of community service early. She has extensive nonprofit experience as both a director and volunteer.  She is currently UMB Bank’s Chief Legal Officer and was referred to CSF by United WE’s Appointment Project, an effort to connect women to civic boards. 

We sat down with Jessica and Amy to get their insight on the story of the fund so far—and what’s next.

What does the board at CSF do? 

Jessica: We are a governing board and have been, at times, more hands-on. Until recently, the CSF has had a really small staff and really small number of board members. It’s everyone working together!

Amy: We truly are a real governing board. We respect the fact that we’re dealing with a large amount of taxpayer dollars. In our fiduciary duty as directors, we feel compelled to have a high degree of oversight as to how those dollars are being spent, the decision-making process, and whether we are supporting all areas of the community.  

What sets the board at CSF apart? 

Jessica: The CSF board is a really good place to learn how to be a board member and get a wide range of board responsibilities. It’s a safe place to learn about board leadership—because everybody knows at some point, they’re going to be rolling into a leadership role.

Amy: There’s a lot of opportunities to lead in different ways on our board, and I think that is really cool. While Jessica and I are in our respective seats today, we also understand that we’re preparing that next round of board leadership within the group. 

Why did you want to become actively involved in the governance and decision-making for the CSF?

Jessica: Kansas City can be very segregated; people stay in their neighborhoods or backyards. Always living east of downtown in Blue Springs, I don’t have a broad perspective of the needs of the urban core or different areas of Kansas City—especially for youth. One highlight for me is becoming more aware of my city and my county. I have two high school and college-age boys; it’s in my wheelhouse to understand what they and their peers might be facing or dealing with.

Amy: Knowing what a challenging childhood my mom had, I always had the intention of working with organizations that served women, children or individuals in poverty. Most of the board service and volunteering that I’ve done has been for organizations that have one of those three mission areas. The CSF has the money to make real effective change within our community. It felt like a really impactful way to serve the areas that I am passionate about. 

What CSF accomplishments or milestones are you particularly proud of? 

Jessica: I’m proud of how we navigated the hard place of not knowing whether the vote would pass. We had two plans: One, we get approved, and two, we don’t. We wanted to ensure that if the vote didn’t pass we knew how we were going to take care of our commitments and do it responsibly.

Before the vote, we had lots of community sessions around the county with residents and partners. For the board, it was nice to be present and/or speaking directly to constituents. There’s not always a lot of opportunities for us to get in front of county residents. We put the faces to the fiduciary responsibility and were able to say: I’m a native here. I live in the county. I’m speaking to you because I believe in the CSF. I think that really strengthened and grew us as a board. 

Amy: We heard from a lot of people that they were surprised to see board members at those sessions. I think it’s something that makes the board of the CSF special: the presence we have at those types of events and the dedication we have to helping with the initiatives. 

Also, I wasn’t an active member of the board when these decisions were made, but the CSF’s COVID relief work really thought outside the box with regard to what organizations needed. The board stepped up along with leadership to get partner organizations technological support resources so they could keep their teams and clients safe. The board was really crucial in that work.

What near-future initiatives or projects are you most excited about?

Jessica: Collaborative grants are a newer initiative that requires one or more entities to work together. These are grants for big dreams. We know that they’re attainable; they just need backing. And we’re making that happen. I’m really excited to see the data that’s going to come back from these collaborations on how we are moving the needle to increase wellness and mental health services across our county, 

Amy: I think a really cool thing in the future for us is the ability to get reliable data that shows us how to help facilitate awards that are going to have the biggest impact. I think we’re going to have a better idea as we mature and grow about how those dollars affect the community and how to target areas with the most need. Data is the future! 

Looking ahead, what long-term goals do you hope to see the CSF achieve?

Jessica:  The goal is to build a healthier and mentally stronger community where youth have access to services and no one gets lost in a system. We all want to ensure that it doesn’t take two or three times or attempts to get services; we want them to get that help immediately.

Amy: Our aspiration is to have a well-rounded community of individuals who have had years of support and are mentally healthy and physically healthy. As Kansas Citians, we’re all so proud of our community. And part of that pride requires that we invest in it.

What is one thing you want our community to understand about the CSF and its board?

Amy: I want people to understand that the work that these boots-on-the ground organizations are doing affects every single person in the county, whether they see it or not. There are a lot of partner organizations that get a fairly substantial amount of their necessary funding from the CSF each year. But there are a lot of people who don’t even know that CSF exists or who don’t recognize what the CSF does for the community with their tax dollars. 

Jessica: Yes, our work as board members is to help get those necessary dollars into the hands of the people. I also want our community to know we’re really good listeners. We respond to what’s happening in our community and figure out how we can leverage these funds to address those needs.

Learn more about what the Children’s Services Fund does and the 10 service areas it empowers.

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