At a glance it can be hard to see the impact of the breadth of services offered by the Whitefoord Community Program (WCP) on the cluster of Atlanta neighborhoods they serve. The non-profit runs four health clinics in nearby schools, offers child development and pre-K services, after school programs, digital media training, summer reading and math workshops and even a Bike Rite health initiative.
In a time of tight city and state budget, more and more municipalities are looking for ways to deliver services to the communities that need them. In Atlanta, one such program, the WCP, has been in place for years and could prove to be a model for the nation. Through grants and other funding the project has proven sustainable. Through community involvement it has proven useful and effective.
Look a little closer at the project and you’ll see the evolution of a community support system that weaves together family, health and education. What stated with a one-square mile area and a single health clinic in Whitefoord Elementary School on the east side of Atlanta more than 15 years ago has evolved into a system that reaches into a number of communities in that area of the city.
All of these services work in tandem from just about the time the child leaves the womb until he or she graduates high school with one goal in mind: providing the children of this inner-city community with the tools they need to complete their education.
At nine weeks, infants can enroll, space provided, in the WCP’s Child Development program and start gearing up for their formal education. Unlike traditional daycare, this nationally accredited child development program employs HighScope Curriculum, a style of early childhood teaching and learning focused on active participation and educational development.
From there the kids can move on to the organization's pre-K programs, then once in grade school on into the Beyond School Hours program, summer math and reading workshops and others.
The WCP takes the community aspect of their title very seriously. When getting its footing back in the early 1990s the founders went door-to-door in the one-square mile area surrounding Whitefoord Elementary to survey the families and find out what services they needed most.
“I think our success, the success of the organization, was contributed to by the fact that we had one square mile that was focused on,” said Clarence Jones, Beyond School Hours Director with the WCP. “So two things that happened that cause our success, in my opinion, is one that we focused on a small area, and two is that we went to the community to determine what the community’s needs were. As a result we had a greater buy-in from the community.“
And the community really seems to have "bought in." More than half of the non-profit’s board members come from the community itself. Principals from the local schools that now house the four health clinics and a variety of the youth programs are asked to participate. The idea, Jones said, was to create a link between the schools and the households, between the educational environment and the community it educates.
Even the organization’s campus was built with the community in mind. After a lengthy drive around the neighborhood you’d probably still be hard pressed to find the buildings. Situated in a number of refurbished and renovated houses just across the street from Whitefoord Elementary, the WCP has made it a point to blend in.
The theory is that health is linked to education -- a theory much research supports. What started with that one clinic and a one-mile radius has blossomed to included two elementary schools, a middle and high school, taking the WCP well beyond their single mile.
What started with the simple premise of promoting health among inner-city youth has gone well beyond that, too. The clinics, while housed inside the schools, are full-service and open to members of the public regardless of age. The organization offers GED programs and parent counseling. Staff social workers pay home visits and actively connect those in need with the services available.
One of the most important aspects contributing to the success of the kids, Jones said, was involvement from the parents.
“The parent has to realize the impact that they have on their child. Without a true realization of the impact that they have on their children then there will be issues,” said Jones. “Now, parents don’t go to school to learn how to parent, so how do you get parents to understand what their impact is? You get them to understand what their impact is through involvement, through participation. “
And these programs and functions were all based on what the communities said they needed.
When the late George Brumley, an Emory pediatrician, started the initiative with the help of former student Veda Johnson the plan wasn’t to be in the community forever. The goal was to make the project self-sufficient and community run within a decade, but as things progressed the staff began to realize it would take “more like a generation,” according to Jones, before the necessary support structures would be in place.
Brumley has passed, but his impact lives on in the community he was dedicated to supporting. The street outside the Whitefoord Community Program's office is marked Georgia W. Brumley Way.
Around the nation, states continue to grapple with the reality of budget shortfalls with a hodgepodge of cuts to various programs, including juvenile justice.
North Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is being forced to cut spending by 10 percent while eliminating roughly 275 positions, a 15 percent decrease in work force, under the new FY 2012 budget.
Also gone are 75 beds from the state’s seven youth development centers, raising concerns that serious offenders may end up back on the streets to make room for new juveniles entering the facilities.
Alabama’s Department of Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention has a FY 2012 budget a little more than half that of FY 2011. The department saw a 74 percent drop in general state funding and significant cuts from the federal-level.
“I don’t see the system being able to recover in my working lifetime,” said DCANP Director Kelly Parris-Barnes. “When you take the community level programs out you don’t have the capacity at the state level to do it.”
Not a direct service provider themselves, the DCANP allocates funds for community-based programs around the state. Of the 174 programs the department funded in FY 2011, just 101 are slated for FY 2012, according to Deputy Director Greg Smith.
On the surface, Idaho’s Department of Juvenile Corrections has seen an increase in funding heading into FY 2011-2012. The budget has increased, said Chief Fiscal Officer Scott Johnson, but the department also absorbed the now defunct Office of Drug Policy.
“The impact is huge,” Johnson said. “All we got was the money. We didn’t get any additional personnel for managing a $4 million program. We’re basically having to design a substance abuse program from the ground up.”
Overall the department saw a $1.1 million decrease in its operating budget, but has largely been able to offset the shortfall due to cost-cutting measures and a decrease in state population.
Maryland added $3.2 million to its Department of Juvenile Services for FY 2012, but the increase is expected to restore employee furlough days, according to a budget analysis outlined by Youth Today. The department still expects to see a reduction in evidence-based services.
Down 12 percent since FY 2011, Louisiana’s Department of Youth Services has seen more than a 20 percent decline in funding since FY 2008.
Texas has begun the closure of the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in an effort to bridge a $117 million shortfall over the next two years.
States around the country have dealt with the decline in available funds for juvenile justice and other related programs in their own ways. This article is merely a snapshot of some of the realities on the ground.
The City of Acworth, GA., is supporting a program called the Acworth Achievers. Five years ago, Acworth identified a concern about at-risk kids within the city limits and began developing a program. The goal of this program is to help middle and high school children make better decisions through after-school and mentoring programs.
“This will offer more opportunities and give kids better decision making skills so they can become productive adults,” Frank White, the Director of Acworth Achievers and the Recreation Coordinator for Acworth Parks and Recreation said.
“It’s about inspiring kids to be the very best that they can be,” Mayor Tommy Allegood said.
Click below to hear more from Mayor Allegood about the Acworth Achievers.
Financial backing from multiple donors made the program possible.
- The Acworth Housing Authority Grant $10,000
- Cobb Success for All $10,000
- Privately Donated Funds - $5,000
Acworth partnered with local schools, including Barber Middle School and North Cobb High School, to start bringing kids into the program. Counselors at both schools were able to identify the kids who would benefit the most from the program and made recommendations.
Some of the things the counselors look at, according to Barber Middle School Counselor Jeannie Collins, are test scores, proximity to the Roberts School Community Center, knowledge of the child's family situation, and some at-risk behaviors.
“Many of the children that go into the Acworth Achievers want to do the right thing but may be surrounded by peers who do not, or might be around parents who are not there to guide them. These are students who are hungry for a positive adult relationship outside of their parents or teachers who can help them when they need someone,” Collins explains.
Consistently there are 35 students in the program and 3 mentors. NorthStar Church also sends volunteers to help mentor the students.
The Acworth Achievers meet every day after school and during the summer at the Roberts School Community Center. It is centrally located in an area where most at-risk kids live within the city limits. This provides students with a safe environment for after-school tutoring, service learning opportunities and it gives them exposure to positive role models.
Although the group is relatively new, the first two students to complete the program and graduate from high school went on to higher education. The Acworth Achievers also helped the City of Acworth win “The All America City Award,” a prestigious award that recognizes cities that solve community problems.
“Anyone willing to contribute or who wants to start their own program, we are more than willing to help get them started and more than willing to partner up with them.” White said.
The best way to get involved with the Acworth Achievers is by volunteering. They are always looking for tutors, mentors, or anyone who wants to encourage kids. For more information contact Frank White at email@example.com