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Portland ConnectED and Starting Strong – An Interview with Jennifer Burns

Jennifer Burns came to United Way of Greater Portland in 2014 as the Project Director for Starting Strong; she currently serves as Community Impact Senior Director, Education.  In this role she works with the Greater Portland community to support quality early learning experiences for children. 

Can you please describe UWGP’s new relationship with STST?

UWGP now serves as the fiscal agent for Starting Strong as a subcommittee of Portland ConnectEd. UWGP has always been the fiscal agent for Portland ConnectEd. Prior to the change, UWGP was backbone to Starting Strong which was a different role.

What is your role, specifically?

I serve on the Starting Strong Leadership team.

Why did this change in relationship occur?

When the Steering Committee of Portland ConnectEd hired a full-time executive director, they decided that it made sense in terms of organizational consistency to pull Starting Strong more directly under this new leadership. Prior to the change, UWGP played a backbone role to Starting Strong and the Starting Strong director was a member of the UWGP staff.  

What are the benefits of this change?

The Starting Strong director works solely on and for Portland ConnectEd. This new relationship allows ConnectEd to use people resources more directly and more flexibly. 

What do you see moving forward, as shared work between STST and THRIVE2027?

The goals of Starting Strong and Goal 1 of Thrive2027 are closely aligned. Communities across Cumberland County can learn from Starting Strong’s work in Portland and vice versa. Starting Strong is diving into some work that other communities haven’t tackled yet, for example Pre-K partnerships between the public school and other early learning agencies to provide more children with a public Pre-K experience. Portland, as part of the area encompassed in the Thrive2027, contributes to progress on Thrive2027 goals.