Solving the Problem of Generational Poverty

About two years ago, Kirby Jones and Albert Fisher started talking about the problem of generational poverty.

Both men lead nonprofits in Wake County designed to help the poor, but their separate efforts didn’t seem to make lasting change.

For years, nonprofit organizations have used a siloed method, Jones said, focusing on their areas of expertise. One organization might give children coats in the winter, and another food, and yet another, after-school tutoring.

“They help people be a little less miserable in their poverty but it never brings them out of poverty,” Jones said.

“We see this really tough generational cycle where, ‘My grandfather needed public assistance, my father needed public assistance, I’m going to need public assistance. And my children are going to need public assistance.’”

Those discussions between Jones, executive director of the Daniel Center for Math and Science and pastor of Williams Grove Baptist Church, and Albert Fisher, president of Community Partnerships, led to the creation of Wake Collaborative. The Collaborative is a seven-organization partnership focused on breaking the cycle of poverty in Wake County and was a finalist for the Triangle Community Foundation’s Innovation Award and won a $7,000 grant from the foundation.

The partners are Community Partnerships, Council for Entrepreneurial Development, The Daniel Center for Math and Science, SouthLight Healthcare, StepUp Ministries, Triangle Family Services, and Wake County SmartStart.

Twice a month, the directors of the nonprofits meet and strategize. Jones said the directors are still in the “throes of strategy.” Their early plans target the 27610 ZIP code in southeast Raleigh. The ZIP code has significantly higher levels of poverty than the Raleigh average, Jones said, and focusing on one compact area to start with will keep the project manageable.

“There’s a realization that what has been the norm for nonprofit organizations trying to solve this problem has not worked,”Jones said.

Jones says this joint effort begins with kids. “Our approach is to focus on a child and to develop a pipeline, so that child stays in our machine, and stays in our system from the earliest age until they are into young adulthood,” he said. “And during this entire time, their families have access to a suite of services that are designed to support that family.”

The first step in this process is for the Daniel Center, which currently focuses on after-school enrichment for school-aged children, to expand into pre-kindergarten. They plan to open two pre-K classrooms by September 2016 and hope to serve 30 kids ages 3 and 4.

“This is where we will begin this whole, big machine,” Jones said. The Daniel Center has worked with Wake County SmartStart to find a way to provide children with high-quality, early education.

“The goal is to have these kids on-par for kindergarten and for the Daniel Center,” he said.

Each day, students arrive at the Daniel Center, a small building behind Williams Grove Baptist Church, around 4 p.m. They have their snack and talk amongst themselves. Jones mingles with the students, asking about their week and how they are doing, and staff members prepare their lesson plans for the day.

Deidre King, a group leader for the Daniel Center, said students come in every day Monday through Friday. Teachers prepare lessons two days of the week, one day is dedicated to Lego Robotics, and they have guest speakers come in to teach students about jobs in science and math once a week.

Each day, students separate into groups. Some work on homework, others hone their reading and math skills, some participate in the Lego Robotics Team, and others participate in lessons and team-building activities.

The staff at the Daniel Center is passionate. “To work with school-age kids, to let them know that they can go to college, is something I really enjoy,” said Pam McCullers, the center’s program coordinator.  She said that her time at the Daniel Center has allowed her to grow and encouraged her to further her education.

“Like people say, you’re never too old to be able to learn,” she said.