Creating a savings account for kindergartners at Y.E. Smith Elementary School.
Establishing an Officer in the Neighborhood Program. And bringing a mobile career center to Holton Career and Resource Center.
These are some of the initiatives that have moved forward in the year of action for the Mayor Bill Bell’s Poverty Reduction Initiative.
Bell made poverty reduction a long-term priority in his State of the City address in February 2014. The effort focuses on two block groups in Census Tract 10.01, which covers much of Northeast Central Durham, an area where poverty, unemployment, crime and other social challenges have persisted for decades.
Task forces were established to focus on jobs, public safety, finance, health, housing and education. Each came up with strategies and implementation plans based, in part, on door-to-door surveys.
Task forces have provided individual updates on their progress at City Council work sessions. On Thursday evening, all the task forces made presentations at Holton.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring all the task forces together so they could share their progress, Bell said, and look to narrowing their focus to two or three priorities. Bell asked the task forces to send their priorities by the beginning of October.
“The other piece is, I would hope as part of this, they would begin to tell us how they are going to measure their goals, give us a time line for achieving those goals and tell us when they want to report back,” Bell said.
Here are some of the updates on each task forces’ progress.
One of the Finance Task Force’s partner agencies, Durham Regional Financial Center, received $7,500 from the United Way in concert with the East Durham Children’s Initiative to identify 25 families and work with them on financial literacy. The funding will help pay for a teacher and materials.
The second major focus of the task force is creating savings accounts for kindergartners at Y.E. Smith to be used for secondary education, such as college. They expect to launch the initiative and the accounts for about 80 students at the beginning of the second semester of the school year.
“The research shows that if you have even a very small college nest egg, your chance of getting there is much greater,” said City Councilman Steve Schewel, who co-chairs the task force.
The task force is working with partners to create an account for each kindergartner with $100 and will provide matching funds of up to $100 every year through fifth grade.
“We have to raise (private) money for the match,” Schewel said. “We are well on the way to do that.”
Two other programs that task force members are working on include increasing awareness about the Earned Income Tax Credit and bringing a full-service ATM to the area.
The Jobs Task Force was divided into six working groups exploring transportation, child care, criminal background, communication, young adult engagement and use of Holton.
The presentation that City Councilwoman Diane Catotti and County Commissioner Wendy Jacobs, both task force co-chairs, made Thursday centered on actions they have taken relating to Holton.
The actions included bringing a mobile career center near Holton on Wednesdays throughout September and October, making the center a more welcoming place and spreading the word about the resources at the Driver Street facility.
Efforts have been made to improve coordination and customer service at Holton, enhance the class offerings and provide related fee reductions. The Holton computer lab is now open to students and job seekers in the mornings and evenings on weekdays.
The task force has focused on four areas: relationship building, adequate staffing, neighborhood safety and youth engagement.
The task force is exploring establishing an Officer in the Neighborhood Program to encourage officers to live in the area. They have identified models in other cities. The next steps include assessing feasibility.
The task force is also working to establish a public safety curriculum at Durham Technical Community College and to create a community liaison position to work with residents on problem solving and community policing.
The task force is also exploring assessing and ensuring that District 1 has enough officers to increase its community policing and provide more face time with residents.
The task force has also been working to create more Neighborhood Watch programs. They have held two meetings, but few people attended.
City Councilman Eddie Davis said the Housing Task Force has been working on several issues, including addressing boarded-up structures by allowing them to be occupied or closing them up with polycarbonate rather than plywood to help improve the look of the community. The task force has also been working to ensure that people who renovate their homes comply with best practices relating to lead paint removal.
The task force is also looking at energy efficiency. Duke Energy went through and tried to assess the energy use and ways people might be able to be more energy efficient.
“They went through and dealt with over 600 homes,” Davis said.
The task force has also been working with partners to educate people about financial literacy and home ownership.
The Health Task Force focused on creating health worker positions for the community. Community health workers link community members to area resources that help them improve their quality of life.
“They must have roots and live in the community, have historical knowledge of the community and Durham, have compassion, possess advocacy and organizational skills,” said Wanda Boone, a member of the task force.
The task force’s activities include establishing qualifications, a job description and exploring partnerships. Next steps include continuing to work with Durham Tech and other organizations to establish training and credentialing programs, along with continuing efforts to locate funding to pay for the positions.
The Education Task Force’s presentation focused on early childhood, newborn to 5, and college going students.
For early childhood, the task force looked at current initiatives implemented by local organizations, public and charter schools, to ensure they were working efficiently.
For college-going students the task force worked with various partners to help students obtain internships, jobs and scholarships for college.