New report reveals impact of nonprofit Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County

A new report shows that 2,856 children in Buncombe County were served through Children First/CIS services and programming. Photo courtesy of Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County

Children First/Communities In Schools (CIS) of Buncombe County, part of the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention organization, released a new impact report that includes new data on how the organization is helping remove barriers for students and families living in poverty, providing resources and surrounding students with a community of support. This report can be viewed at www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.

The impact report demonstrates the effectiveness of wraparound services that Children First/CIS delivers to help the growing number of students living in poverty overcome barriers to learning. The Children First/CIS Impact Report comes just weeks after the Department of Education released new data showing the North Carolina high school graduation rate is now at a record-breaking 85.4 percent.

Allison Jordan, executive director of Children First/CIS, knows that to continue this upward trend in graduation rates, work has to begin at the elementary school level. “Too many children in our community arrive in the classroom unprepared to concentrate and learn due to circumstances outside of their control, such as food insecurity, homelessness, poor health and lack of basic necessities,” Jordan says. “By providing needed resources not only to the student, but also to their family, we are helping prepare them to succeed both inside and outside the classroom. Ultimately, this can lead to academic success and a better attitude about school, which also increases their chances of graduating.”

Teachers recognize the impact that poverty has on a student’s ability to focus on their studies, as 88 percent of U.S. teachers believe that student poverty is the No. 1 barrier to effective learning in the classroom.

Children First/CIS Student support specialists in Johnston Elementary, Emma Elementary, Estes Elementary and Eblen Intermediate schools work with a team of school and support staff to assess the needs of students and provide the necessary supports and resources. This can range from food, school supplies, health care, counseling, academic assistance, positive role models, basic necessities and more, depending on the needs of the student and their family.

Children First/CIS is a unique organization in that it is able to provide many of the resources that students and their families need through its other programs: Family Resource Center at Emma, Latino Outreach Program, Project POWER AmeriCorps and its after-school Learning Center/Summer Camp program. Combined, these Children First/CIS programs provide a food pantry, clothing closet, immigrant outreach, academic assistance, enrichment activities, mentoring and tutoring, parenting classes and emergency financial assistance.

The organization recognizes that when a family is being supported with services and resources, the chances for success are exponentially greater. Therefore, it facilitates parenting classes and workshops, case management and home visits to make sure the needs of the entire family are being addressed.

For example, Lena is a mother of six children with ages ranging from 2 months to 7 years. She had no phone, car or family support. A Children First/CIS (CFCIS) student support specialist at Johnston Elementary worked with Lena to get her acclimated to school policy, enrolled Lena’s oldest boys in the CFCIS after-school learning center (where they received homework help and healthy snacks), helped secure furniture for Lena’s home so all the children had their own beds, provided food boxes via the CFCIS food pantry and even facilitated a workshop in math techniques so Lena could help her children with their homework. The children are showing marked improvements both in the home and the classroom.

Public policy advocacy is an important component in making sure resources remain accessible to families — especially those living at or below poverty level. Children First/CIS is one of the leaders in providing advocacy efforts on a local and state level.

According to the report, Children First/CIS achieved the following:
• 2,856 children in Buncombe County, or 6 percent of all children living in Buncombe County, were served through Children First/CIS services and programming. These programs provide academic assistance, enrichment activities, mentoring, holiday assistance, food, clothing, school-supply resources and school supports.
• 378 families were served with Children First/CIS direct services and programming that helped prevent short-term crisis that could lead to homelessness and/or food insecurity and strengthened families through parenting classes and case management.
• 1,100 petition signatures were collected and sent to elected officials advocating preventing cuts to childcare subsidy vouchers, expanding Medicaid, creating affordable housing and reinstating the N.C. Earned Income Tax Credit.
• 45,000 Voter Guides were distributed via the Mountain Xpress and direct mail that compiled candidate responses to questions concerning affordable housing, transportation, education funding and more.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive,” says Jordan. “It is our goal to provide the supports and resources children and families need so they can reach their full potential. It is our honor and privilege to work with them in their schools, in their community with our after-school programs and in their homes.”

Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, a local nonprofit that believes all children deserve to reach their full potential. They help achieve this by bringing together resources to help children succeed in their schools and at home. Along with providing services, Children First/CIS advocates for children and their families with local and state policy makers. To find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org

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