Jennifer Welch Buller is a Research Project Coordinator at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR) at the University of Kansas. Jenny’s professional experience includes providing case management for low-income adults and individuals exiting the criminal justice system; professional development; community education and outreach at the State, city and neighborhood level; and facilitating victim-offender conflict resolution through a restorative justice program. Jenny currently assists the State of Kansas with the 2014 SNAP E&T pilot in Kansas called GOALS (Generating Opportunities to Attain Lifelong Success), a 3-year SNAP E&T pilot project funded by the USDA and administered by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. Jenny saw the Learning Academy as a perfect opportunity to build on the skills and knowledge needed to assist the State of Kansas with the 2014 pilot transition and sustainability plan. She also saw the Learning Academy as a rare opportunity to be a part of a nationwide effort to expand employment and training driven solutions to poverty in America.
Learn more about Jenny's experience in the Learning Academy:
Describe your experience in the Learning Academy. What were your biggest takeaways? What sessions or experiences impacted you the most?
The Learning Academy was an impressive experience from start to finish. The one-on-one calls with my expert liaison, access to policy experts, carefully constructed curriculum, and passionate support from the Seattle Jobs Initiative staff all together made for a deep and meaningful learning experience. My most valuable takeaway was a deeper understanding of how to expand SNAP E&T and its impact by partnering with third-party providers and applying 50 percent reimbursement funds. It was so helpful to reinforce this and other subjects through layered and applied learning and the invaluable exchange among peers. The final session helped everything come together when we shared our projects and had a chance to learn from the experts from the Office of Employment and Training. It was both reassuring and inspiring to exchange challenges, experiences, new ideas, and tangible tools with others across the nation.
In your specific role, how did the Learning Academy support you in building your skills and having an impact on SNAP E&T?
The Learning Academy helped me carve out the dedicated time and space I needed to really dig deep into SNAP E&T. The well-designed program and access to experts on policy, programming, and implementation provided just the support I needed to build on and test out my knowledge. Participation in the Learning Academy, combined with my past experiences, has further fueled my sense of urgency to expand the role SNAP E&T programming plays in building a strong economy for all. It feels good to know that now, with a deeper understanding of how SNAP E&T works, I can contribute to the efforts in our State to sustain SNAP E&T momentum after the 2014 pilot and to expand awareness of the important role of SNAP E&T.
Tell us about your Learning Academy project. How did it advance your learning? How does it help advance SNAP E&T?
I created a Third-Party Partner Outreach & Education Video designed to solicit and inform potential third-party partners about SNAP E&T basics, enhance the reputation of SNAP E&T among partners and providers, and expand capacity of State staff to get the word out. In developing this project, I gained a clearer understanding of how third-party partnerships work, and I learned the importance of creating a diverse set of outreach and education tools that speak to each audience while also communicating the potentially unique vision of each State. I hope my project can benefit others and advance SNAP E&T by 1) providing a model for consistent messaging during the outreach and on-boarding phase, 2) helping potential partners and State staff get excited about role of SNAP E&T in workforce development, and 3) serving as a tool to inform and draw in potential third-party partners to help expand SNAP E&T.
What advice would you give to future Learning Academy participants? Is there anything you know now about preparing for the Academy that you wish you would have known before you started?
My advice to future Learning Academy participants would be to not worry about how small or specific your project may seem in the grander picture. If it has practical application on a local level, it can still be really be useful as a model for others. Also, be open to sharing your small fails along with your bright spots along the way – that is where we had some real aha moments that contributed to the larger good of all those present.
What are your plans for the future? How do you plan to continue your SNAP E&T work?
I hope to continue to have the honor to assist State leadership with the pilot transition plan, contributing what knowledge and skills I can that help the current successes Kansas has in SNAP E&T programming across the State. I also look forward to travelling across the State to share with partners and providers the exciting potential 50 percent reimbursement grants have in helping States and providers meet their common goals to help SNAP participants gain skills, training, or work experience to increase their ability to obtain regular employment that leads to economic self-sufficiency.