Who We Are:
Children First/Communities In Schools has been empowering and advocating for children and their families in Buncombe County for over forty years. Our goal is to provide services and resources so that students can come to school ready to learn, graduate and succeed in life. But too many students live in families that are unable to afford basic needs such as food, housing, and healthcare- which creates barriers to learning. We follow a proven formula for promoting student success by providing resources and services to improve attendance, behaviors, coursework, and parent engagement. And knowing that children cannot thrive with a food box alone, we advocate for public policies with our local and state leaders to expand family stability and economic security that improves access to housing, healthcare and early childhood care and learning. Get involved: donate, advocate and volunteer.
Our mission is to empower children and their families to reach their full potential through advocacy, education and services. The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Last year, Children First/CIS advocated for 100% of the children in our community, and provided direct services to 7% (4,414) of K-6th grade children in Buncombe County.
Child poverty and hunger remain major problems for children. 46% of Buncombe County children still live in poor or near-poor homes, a major risk factor for negative educational, health, and economic outcomes in the future. Additionally, 22% of Buncombe County children live in food insecure households putting at risk their immediate health, safety, and ability to learn and half (54%) of the students in Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Research has linked child poverty with societal costs including academic underachievement, higher dropout rates, higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher costs of crime, and poorer overall health outcomes.
The majority of children living in poverty in Buncombe County are white, but poverty disproportionately impacts African-American and Latinx children at higher rates than their white peers. For example, 33% of African Americans in Buncombe County are living in poverty, while they only make up 6% of the total population. And the numbers are even higher for our Latinx neighbors – 46% are living in poverty while only making up 6% of the total population of Buncombe County. This is a significant racial disparity that needs to be addressed in our county.
100% of the families we serve are living in poverty with incomes below $24,000/year for a family of four. Neighboring schools have above 85% eligibility of free and reduced cost lunch, meaning their families live on income at no more than 130% of the poverty line.
Every year 1.2 million students drop out of school. What that means is every nine seconds, a student in America loses his or her path to a better future. High school dropout rates for Asheville City Schools (4.8%) and Buncombe County Schools (4.65%) are slightly higher than North Carolina overall (4.27%). Since we know that graduation begins in elementary school, we focus on K-6th grade student population, and are the first conduit in the “graduation pipeline” for the Erwin District that includes the United Way’s Middle School Success program and the Graduation Initiative. We know that graduation starts in elementary school.
The Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) helps English-speaking and Latino families in crisis annually through emergency assistance (food pantry, clothing closet, emergency financial assistance), information and referral, case management, and parenting classes. The Project POWER/AmeriCorps program provides mentoring and enrichment activities to youth in schools and in after-school programs. Learning Centers are a safe haven and holistic afterschool program for 40+ vulnerable elementary school aged children living in a public housing complex and a section 8 apartment complex. The school-based Student Support Specialists connect students and their families to critical community resources with the goal of empowering students to stay in school and achieve in life.
In addition to direct services, Children First/CIS engages in public policy advocacy campaigns to build opportunity for children and families with a focus on improving access to housing, healthcare and childcare while protecting policies that promote family stability. In response to the growing rate of families’ inability to access basic needs and promote stability , the Success Equation was created to unite the community so all children can thrive.
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