Frequently Asked Questions

What is Children First/ Communities In Schools?

To Have More ScienceChildren First/ Communities In Schools is a nonprofit organization that has been in operation for nearly 40 years. Children First/ Communities In Schools provides a variety of direct services for economically disadvantaged children, youth, and families in Buncombe County, such as food, clothing, case management, homework assistance, and enrichment activities. We do this while engaging the community in creating a better future for all children through advocacy.

Our direct service programs – the Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE), Project POWER/AmeriCorps, Learning Centers, and Student Support Specialists – serve thousands of Buncombe County children and families every year. We believe that all children deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential. We help them achieve this by surrounding them with a community of support in their schools, communities and homes.

But we cannot end child poverty with a food box alone, therefore we also work at a policy level with local and state decision makers to advocate for all of Buncombe County’s children and families.


What are the different programs at CF/CIS?

VG singleThe Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE) helps over 400 English-speaking and Latino families in crisis annually through emergency assistance (food pantry, clothing closet, emergency financial assistance), information and referral, case management, parenting classes and a community garden.

• The Project POWER/AmeriCorps program provides academic enrichment activities and volunteer services to youth living in Buncombe County.

• Learning Centers are safe haven afterschool programs for 40+ at-risk elementary school aged youth living in a public housing complex and a section 8 apartment complex. Children receive homework help, a healthy snack, and enrichment activities. The program also includes a parent involvement component, and a six-week summer camp.

• The school-based Student Support Specialist connects 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 to build opportunity for children and families. Through education and outreach, Children First/CIS builds a community-based advocacy voice for our vulnerable children, youth, and their families.

• The Success Equation is a community movement to reduce the root causes of child poverty in Buncombe County. Its three areas of focus are early child development, family support and family economic stability.

Do your programs work?

DANCE!Student Support Specialist: Last year, our Student Support Specialist at Johnston and at Emma offered 35 school-wide services & events at the schools, providing 497 service hours to 3,652 students (duplicated). They provided more intensive one-on-one services to 66 at-risk students.

Family Resource Center at Emma: The food pantry provided a total of 713 duplicated food boxes to to 203 households (333 adults and 469 children). The clothing closet provided free clothing to 84 families, including 169 children. 50 families received a total of $7,731.50 in emergency assistance to prevent disconnection of utilities and eviction. We provided information and referral to a total of 225 families, and 250 children received gifts through our Holiday Assistance Program.

Learning Centers: Last year, the Learning Centers provided academic assistance, mentoring and enrichment activities and a healthy snack for 60 youth in 3 learning centers.  100% of the students at all 3 Learning Centers graduated to the next grade. Over the course of the year, parents were given 80 opportunities to become involved. 100% of parents were involved at least once during any given quarter, while an average of 72% of parents were involved two or more times per quarter. Between the three Learning Center sites parents volunteered 985 hours!

Project POWER/ AmeriCorps: Last year, a team of 25 full-time members served 68,802 hours at 22 schools and nonprofit organizations. Members provided academic enrichment services to 2,516 students. Members also recruited 1,138 volunteers, who served 26,546 hours.

Advocacy: Our 2104 voter education activities included printing and distributing over 40,000 copies of a nonpartisan Voter Guide and launching a companion website – The effort was a partnership with Democracy NC and cosponsored by 18 local nonprofits. The website had over 2,500 unique visitors and 7,700 page views before Election Day. We identified and called 400 registered voters living in predominately low/middle income areas around our three Learning Center sites to encourage them to vote.

Who is eligible to receive services?

Our services are available to families who meet the specific criteria for the particular program; for example, children who attend our Learning Center program must live in the housing community where the Center is located, and all FRCE clients have an income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, and either live in the Emma community, are on the caseload of one of our Student Support Specialists at Johnston or Emma Elementary School or Eblen Intermediate School, or have a child attending one of our Learning Centers.

Where does CF/CIS receive its financial support?

Children First/CIS receives financial support from our community through individual donors, civic and faith organizations, and the local United Way.  Children First/CIS also receives funding from local and national private foundations, corporate sponsors, and our city and county government. More than half (55%) of the Children First/CIS budget includes a federal government grant for the Project POWER/AmeriCorps program.

What percentage of CF/CIS’s budget is spent on administration vs. programs?

A majority, or 87%, of CF/CIS’s budget is spent on programs. 13% of the budget is administration, which is in line with best-practice for non-profit organizations.

Is Children First/ CIS supported by the United Way?

United Way’s funded community partners share a strong commitment to improving conditions in Asheville and Buncombe County. Funded partners receive grants through a competitive grant application process.

Children First/ CIS has been a partner agency of our local United Way agency for many years. Our organization pays rent to have our administrative offices located in the United Way building in down town Asheville, and we apply for and receive funding for our Family Resource Center at Emma program, Learning Center program, and Advocacy program. United Way funding currently comprises 5% of our organizational revenue.

Individuals and businesses may choose to designate Children First/CIS when making their individual United Way donations. Last year, we received more than $6,000 in United Way designations from generous individuals; this number comprised 11% of our individual giving program.

What is the history of the organization?

The organization now known as Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County began in 1976 as Youth Services Action Group (YSAG) – a collective voice for the needs of youth in Buncombe County.  Children First was established in 1992 as a program of the United Way, and merged with YSAG in 1998.  In 2003, Children First acquired the local affiliate of Communities In Schools, a national dropout prevention network of 200 local affiliates serving nearly 1.25 million students in 27 states and D.C. In 2013, Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County was awarded official designation as a Nationally Accredited Affiliate Organization for Communities In Schools.

What is Communities In Schools?

Children First is an affiliate of Communities In Schools – a national nonprofit organization that is composed of 5,000 professionals and 65,000 volunteers on the ground, working in more than 3,200 K-12 public schools, in the most challenged communities, in 26 states, and the District of Columbia, serving nearly 1.4 million young people and their families every year. Communities In Schools’ mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

What is the Communities In Schools accreditation?

In December, 2012 Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County achieved all Communities In Schools Total Quality System requirements for national accreditation, and was awarded official designation as a Nationally Accredited Affiliate Organization. The Communities In Schools TQS system is a set of standards, policies and procedures for affiliate development.  It is used as a national yardstick for continuous quality improvement and growth, and indicates “strong leadership, sound business practices, a commitment to rigorous evaluation, and effective integration of resources and services.” Children First merged with Communities In Schools of Asheville in 2003.

Who are CF/CIS’s partners?

Our many partners are crucial to the success of our programs. Key partners include:

• Family Resource Center at Emma: MANNA Food Bank, Emma Elementary, Warren Wilson College, UNC-Asheville, Mars Hill College, Western Carolina University, Asheville Youth Mission, Trinity Episcopal Church, Cathedral of All Souls, New Horizons Church, Jubilee Community

• Advocacy: Together NC, NC Center for Nonprofits, NC Justice Center, Women for Women, Action for Children NC, Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, and Blueprint NC

• Student Support Specialist: Johnston Elementary, Emma Elementary, Estes Elementary, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Eblen Intermediate

• Learning Centers/ Summer Camp: FEAST, LEAF Schools & Streets, Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association (ABYSA), Jewish Community Center, MANNA Food Bank, Trips for Kids, Navitat Canopy Tours, French Broad Rafting Expeditions, Trinity Episcopal Church, Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville Youth Mission, Happy Body Yoga, Bonner Scholar Program at Mars Hill, UNC-Asheville, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program)

• Project POWER/ AmeriCorps: ArtSpace; Avery’s Creek Elementary; Buncombe County Book Mobile; CF/CIS Learning Centers; CF/CIS Learning Centers; Charlotte Street Kids; Emma Elementary; Estes Elementary; Fairview Elementary; Hall Fletcher Elementary; JCC; Johnston Elementary; Jones Elementary; MANNA Food Bank; OurVOICE; Mother Love (YWCA); YMCA; YWCA

What types of volunteer opportunities are available?

Our volunteers are invaluable and deserve a lot of the credit for our success. These volunteers begin with our Board of Directors but also include community volunteers who assist with the day-to-day activities of our various programs.

Volunteers at the FRCE help prepare food boxes, sort the clothing closet, clean the FRCE, work in the community garden, and assist with special projects, such as the holiday assistance program.  Volunteers for the Success Equation serve on committees engaged with public policy, Family Resource Centers and communications. Volunteers at our after-school learning centers commit to a minimum of one hour a week to assist K-5th graders with homework help and enrichment activities. Other volunteers mentor hundreds of young girls and boys every year through our Project POWER/AmeriCorps program and our centers. Volunteers may also serve on our board of directors or on special advisory councils, or they help develop and support special efforts to address specific needs or specific clients.

All in all, hundreds of volunteers of all different skill levels and backgrounds donate more than 25,000 hours throughout each year to support the programs and people of Children First/CIS. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but we still have room for more volunteers! More information – and a link to our volunteer application form – is available online at

How can I learn more/ support Children First/ Communities In Schools?

• Become a volunteer

• Join a committee (events, finance, Success Equation, etc)

• Like us on Facebook

• Follow us on Twitter

• Attend one of our monthly Mind the Gap tours. Find out more here

• Donate

• Become a monthly donor

• Sign up to receive our e-newsletter

• Sign up for our advocacy alerts

• Join a Success Equation committee

• Invite us to speak to your school, workplace, place of worship, or civic group

Call the Main Office at 828-259-9717 to find out more information on the opportunities listed above.


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