A year after the Faith Summit on Child Poverty, leaders reflect on what happened in 2013 and what is planned for 2014.
The summit in January 2013 drew more than double the people it was expected to, with almost 500 people registering for the program.
Last year, two organizations – End Poverty Durham and Durham’s Partnership for Children – came together to involve people in the discussion about how to end poverty in Durham. A year later, people are still responding to the call.
“It was nice blend that day of organizations and agencies that worked with children and families in poverty, as well as congregations,” said Winnie Morgan, coordinator of the Early Childhood Faith Initiative – a collaboration between Durham’s Partnership for Children and End Poverty Durham.
According to their website, End Poverty Durham was started in 2004 as a meeting of faith leaders with the goal of ending poverty in Durham within the next 25 years. In order to engage more people in its efforts, the program decided to hold a summit in conjunction with Durham’s Partnership for Children.
Through feedback, focus groups and discussions, the summit identified three categories of needs to focus on: family support, education and advocacy, Morgan said.
Family support is about building relationships across lines of poverty and privilege. A new program, REAL Durham, is launching in March to create these relationships. The name, REAL Durham, is an acronym that stands for relationships equipping allies and leaders. This program will be a local chapter of Circles USA, a national campaign aimed at helping communities resolve poverty.
According to Camryn Smith, coordinator of REAL Durham, people often take things like job-ready skills and networking for granted.
Circles USA pairs a member of a low-wealth family (the leader) with three or four volunteers (the allies) who have social and financial qualifications to help the leader. These circles meet for 18 weeks to work on education, job placement and economic stability, Smith said.
This program has proved to be successful in other parts of the country.
REAL Durham will begin a few circles in March and another group of circles in the fall.
“It’s about helping people who have been into generational material poverty have the tools to learn how to navigate those systems,” Smith said.
The program is a partnership with other organizations in the community and will receive referrals from those groups for circles leaders.
In an effort to break the cycle of poverty, the organization is teaching parents how to help children reach their full potential, especially in the early childhood years.
Morgan identifies three key factors in early childhood development: intentional talking, reading and singing to a child.
“It’s a dream that we can break that cycle of poverty by beginning working with children at birth,” she said.
The Early Childhood Faith Initiative has attempted this by working with churches to provide young children with kindergarten readiness kits, which provide supplies that some children might not have access to otherwise, Morgan said.
The boxes contain things that help the children intellectually and emotionally prepare for school, such as materials that talk about feelings and colored shapes to use for building.
The initiative also wants to continue distributing books in English and Spanish so mothers have something to read to their children.
Morgan said she meets with congregations in the area to discuss their interests and how they want to help with the problem of poverty.
“It’s definitely a topic that people are very interested in,” she said, “but there’s always room for more.”
Several congregations have held series on poverty, created teams and committees to decide how to address issues surrounding poverty, and sponsored various drives and programs, like those with the readiness kits and books.
To address the need for advocacy, members of End Poverty Durham met with WRAL network last year to discuss making a documentary on poverty in order to show people what is going on in their community.
A year later, WRAL aired a documentary on Jan. 16 titled “Every Fourth Child…Still,” which features a family from East Durham living in poverty. The name of the documentary was a nod to a 1986 WRAL documentary titled, “Every Fourth Child.”
The two documentaries are named such because 1 in 4 children in North Carolina in 1986 lived in poverty, and according to Clay Johnson, producer and writer of documentaries for WRAL, the rate is about the same today.
Johnson said the network has received positive feedback from the film.
“People said it made them think and that it inspired them to do more,” he said. “And that’s why we do documentaries.”
Impact of the summit
Mel Williams, coordinator of End Poverty Durham, said the poverty situation in Durham is a crisis.
“We’ve got to alleviate the unacceptable poverty in Durham,” Williams wrote in an email. “We are focusing on East Durham where the child poverty rate is a shocking 63 percent.”
Morgan said an important impact of the summit was that it brought lots of organizations together to promote partnerships and help them unite for change.
Many other congregations are working with Morgan and planning to organize new projects in 2014 and help to continue the projects that were successful in the last year.
“There’s a lot of interest and a lot of excellent programs in Durham that help families in poverty,” she said.
Echoing that sentiment, Mayor Bill Bell focused on the topic of poverty in his “State of the City” address on Feb. 3.
According to the transcript of Bell’s speech on the City of Durham website, Bell said End Poverty Durham is “putting a laser-like focus” on combating poverty in Durham.
Bell also expressed hope that the city will be successful at decreasing poverty in Durham, saying, “If it can be done anywhere, reducing poverty can be accomplished in Durham.”