Community Partnerships in the Heart of Union County

By Jenna Jamieson, Opinion Writer

If you explore the succulent fruits that are harvested in Southern Illinois, you will likely find yourself in Union County. Among the many peach trees, apple trees and blueberry bushes, you will find many low-income farming families who work in the fields and harvest the delicious fruit.  

This is the fruit that is often picked up at our local orchards and farmer’s markets. You will also find young children of low income farmers and agricultural families that are learning at a small early childhood center, SuCasa Education. Farmers that grow fruits, process canned foods and work in the fields qualify to send their children to this educational center. 

The center services children under the age of six throughout the growing season. Bus service is provided in Union, Jackson and Williamson counties.  The center provides breakfast and lunch as well as a quality education, playtime and snacks throughout the day.

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Part of the success of SuCasa are the many community partnerships that have been formed to help the children.   

SuCasa recently hosted its annual health advisory meeting, where partners came together to brainstorm on ways to involve the community. Outside partners included the SIU Dental School, Southern Illinois Healthcare and various other community partners that assist with its success.   

Another unique community event took place for the first time this year. Kiki’s Coffeehouse owner Kathy Bryan, as well as retired school teacher Evelyn Bailey, helped with a book drive in July that collected over 300 books.

Carbondale Public Library also donated 100 books to the drive. This collection of books helps facilitate reading materials in the homes of many children that have a need for reading material that suits their age level.  

As we head back to school, remember the impact that SuCasa Education and orchards have on our local economy. If we set the debate on funding for low-income families aside, it is possible to recognize the economic impact of these orchards and their families.  

The Peach Festival earlier this month featuring local farms and organizations also demonstrates some of the partnerships in Union County. It spotlights some of the great harvests of these low income farmers. 

You can also visit the Old Feedstore in Cobden where farmer’s markets are held on Sundays from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. These farmer’s markets are community events in Union County that help pump money into the local economy. The farmer’s markets also have a menu that includes locally sourced ingredients such as lavender, peaches and cheeses.  

Community partnerships are important.  Not only to organizations like SuCasa, but to SIU Carbondale as well. 

SuCasa’s collaboration with the SIU Dental Program demonstrates some of SIU’s reach beyond Carbondale. Leaders from SIU programs and departments sponsor events, donate items and help collaborate with organizations in many Southern Illinois counties.  

It’s important to recognize the reach of these community partnerships with SIU and its economic impact on families in the region. If there’s one thing to know about small towns and rural areas, it’s that local economic vitalization is important. 

That’s precisely why community partnerships and collaborations help bring growth and economic success to areas like Union County through programs like SuCasa Education. 

Opinion writer Jenna Jamieson can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jennarpjamieson.

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