Children First/Communities In Schools (CIS) is a local non-profit committed to advocating and empowering children and families living in poverty. This is achieved through education and direct services such as the Family Resource Center at Emma, our after-school Learning Centers, Project POWER/AmeriCorps, and Student Support Specialists in Emma, Claxton & Johnston & Estes Elementary School and Eblen Intermediate.
In addition to direct services, Children First/CIS engages in public policy advocacy campaigns to build opportunity for children and families. In response to the growing incidence of child poverty, Children First/CIS created The Success Equation, which unites community to reduce and prevent the incidence of poverty and its impact on children in Buncombe County.
Children First’s 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.
A community where children and youth are highly valued and are provided the maximum opportunity to reach their full potential.
Our Core Values
Currently, one in four (24%) children in Buncombe County live in poverty, and half (53%) 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.
Children First/CIS helps fulfill basic needs for children and families living in the Pisgah View and with children attending Emma, Johnston, Estes Elementary Schools and Eblen Intermediate School – all poverty-stricken West Asheville communities. 100% of the families we serve are living in poverty with incomes below $24,250/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. The families living in the two public housing communities served by our Learning Center students have an average income of less than $6,000 a year for a family of four.
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%).
Food insecurity is a serious issue for residents of Buncombe County, many of them children. In the past few years, the number of food insecure households has almost tripled. In 2008, the number of households receiving assistance soared from 8,995 to 20,810 households in 2015. Households have also seen a decrease in their food stamp allotment; on average a reduction of $36 a month for a family of four. For one mother, this was the amount she spent on meat each month.
Map the Meal Gap 2014 results show that food insecurity continues to remain high in Buncombe County. According to the newly released data, the food insecurity rate is 15.4 percent, or 37,320 people. Of that number, 12,170 are children who are experiencing food insecurity.
Buncombe County’s unemployment rate dipped to 4 percent, but that figure is not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, such as temporary hiring for the holidays by retailers. However, many people who are currently employed are underemployed – working at minimum wage and having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. One in five American adults work in jobs that pay “poverty-level wages,” and the current minimum wage is lower, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it was in 1968. In fact, for a minimum wage earner, their annual earnings are only 18% higher than the Federal Poverty Level for an individual.
The cost of living in Asheville is also one of the highest in the county, with wages not being able to keep up with costs.
• For a one parent, one child family, the estimated annual living expenses for the Asheville area are $46,945
• In 2013, the median hourly wage for all 171,890 workers in the four-county Asheville metro area was $14.41, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. But scrolling through that list, it’s easy to find occupations that pay well below that, including restaurant cooks ($10.33 an hour median wage), housekeepers ($9.51) and retail sales ($10.49) — and these jobs often don’t offer health insurance or other benefits.
• Workers’ paychecks just don’t go as far as they used to. In real dollars, wages actually declined slightly after 2010, as housing costs have continued to climb.
• A single parent would have to work 16 hours at minimum wage in order to afford a modest 2 bedroom apartment in Asheville.
Our Programs and Services
Children First/CIS of Buncombe County is a not-for-profit organization that offers direct services to economically disadvantaged children, youth and their families. These services include:
• Family Resource Center at Emma that helps over 200 English and Latino families in crisis with a food pantry, clothing closet, emergency financial assistance, parenting classes and a community garden.
• Learning Centers that provides a safe haven afterschool for 40+ at-risk elementary school aged youth (living in a public housing complex and a section 8 apartment complex) to receive homework help, a healthy snack, enrichment activities and also includes a parent involvement component.
• Project POWER/AmeriCorps program that provides mentoring and enrichment activities to at-risk youth living in Buncombe County.
• Student Support Specialist at Johnston and Emma Elementary School connects students and their families to critical community resources that are tailored to their needs. This Coordinator also provides students with a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; a safe place to learn and grow; a healthy start and future; a marketable skill to use upon graduation; and a chance to give back to peers and the community.
• The Success Equation, which unites the community to help alleviate the root causes of poverty, creating a community in which all children can thrive.
• In addition to direct services, Children First/CIS also provides advocacy and community education to raise awareness of, and develop sustainable solutions to, issues affecting children and families and breaking down barriers of poverty.
Originally created in the mid-1970’s as Youth Services Action Group (YSAG), we were a collective voice for the needs of youth in our community. Children First was established in 1992 as a program of the United Way and merged with YSAG in 1998. In 2003, Children First then merged with the local affiliate of Communities In Schools and in 2013, was awarded official designation as a Nationally Accredited Affiliate Organization for Communities In Schools.
Through our direct services, advocacy and collaborative efforts, Children First/CIS weaves together community members, organizations, volunteers, and resources to provide services to the working poor and families in crisis living in disadvantaged communities of Buncombe County.