Durham News

Durham County presses groups helping poor, youth for accountability

County commissioners pressed two groups Tuesday to better explain how they’re using taxpayers’ dollars to help keep young people in school and help poor people.

Made in Durham leverages private-public partnerships to help students complete high school, seek a post-secondary credential and gain a living-wage job by the age of 25.

“We are working with education partners, and we are working with businesses to make sure that we are connecting youth to careers,” said Meredythe Holmes, Made in Durham’s executive director.

The organization has made progress in working with more companies and establishing career pathways, which link students in schools to opportunities and programs that helps them stay in school, gain skills and envision a career, Holmes said.

At the same time, Made in Durham is working with drop-outs by supporting a partnership among three drop-out recovery programs: Durham Public Schools’ Durham Performance Learning Center, Achievement Academy of Durham, and Durham Tech’s Gateway to College program. Made in Durham provides two staff members to the partnership and promotes collaboration.

The group’s annual report gave general updates about outreach, fundraising and collaborations but no details on how many businesses it is working with and how many young people it has helped.

“As you know, I have been pushing actively for measurable outcomes we can track and being able to really monitor what we created in 2014,” Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.

Holmes said in an interview after the meeting that is difficult to provide some of those figures when the group works with many organizations.

“Made in Durham is a community partnership that uses a collective impact approach,” Holmes said. Board members include the city and county managers along with business executives.

Durham County provides $101,000 of the program’s $1.1 million budget. Eighty percent of its budget is from private sources and 20 percent from public, according to a county report.

On Tuesday the commissioners agreed to provide the $101,000 in county money already set aside for 2016-17 but asked the group to provide more specific information, such as how many youth have received jobs.

“It seems like the planning time should be over,” Reckhow said. “We need to begin to see progress.”

Holmes told commissioners she would follow up in a couple of weeks. Commissioners also asked for another report in April as they consider next year’s budget.

Commissioners also sought more information from Central Piedmont Community Action Inc., formerly Joint Orange Chatham Community Action, which distributes federal money in four counties including Orange and Durham to provide housing, educational and employment support to individuals who are currently at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

The grant, which is based on U.S. Census data, was previously distributed in Durham County by anti-poverty organization Operation Breakthrough.

The commissioners asked for more information about how the $728,833 in federal money designated for Durham families in the 2015-16 fiscal year was used along with the $583,248 designated for this fiscal year. Commissioners also asked the organization to improve outreach and communication with the Durham County Department of Social Services and other anti-poverty initiatives.

In other business

In other business, commissioners approved a non-binding agreement to donate right-of-way and easements for the design, construction and maintenance of the 17.7 mile Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project.

The memorandum of understanding between the county and regional transit authority GoTriangle is a preliminary agreement outlining the county’s support and willingness to donate a handful of properties it owns along the route that would extend from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University.

GoTriangle sought the MOU to demonstrate local support for the project as it seeks federal money for the $1.87 billion project. The city of Durham, N.C. Central University, and UNC have signed similar non-binding agreements regarding right of way donation.

Durham, Durham County and Orange County governments have previously signed non-binding letters supporting GoTriangle’s efforts to close a $254 million funding gap in the project, caused in part by the state reducing its share of cost.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges