Child Care Services works to boost early education

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Every weekday, at kitchens in Durham and Chapel Hill, breakfast, lunch and snacks are prepared for 900 children at 24 child-care centers in Durham and Orange counties.

At Meredith College in Raleigh, 25 infant-toddler teachers are enrolled in a course to improve their teaching.

In Beaufort, Chowan, Hertford and Hyde counties in eastern North Carolina, at-risk kids from birth to age two are enrolled in a pilot program modeled on the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

All those efforts are the work of the Child Care Services Association, a Chapel Hill nonprofit created by the 1999 merger of agencies in Chapel Hill and Durham that both were formed in 1974 with United Way funding to improve early childhood education.

Operating with an annual budget of $30 million and a staff of over 100 people, Child Care Services helps parents find child care programs, and operates scholarship and wage-supplement programs for child care professionals throughout North Carolina and in other states that have helped those professionals improve their skills and stay in their jobs longer. Those programs have become models for other states.

It also provides a range of local services in the Triangle and throughout the state and U.S.

The agency, which receives the bulk of its funds in the form of federal grants through the state, as well as funds from local Partnerships for Children that operate Smart Start early childhood programs, has helped the parents of over 100,000 children in the Triangle find quality child care that fits the parents’ needs to attend school or go to work, says Anna Carter, the Association’s president.

Its T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood scholarships, piloted in 1990, help 3,500 North Carolina early care and education teachers a year take classes at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

“Teachers who have more education have classrooms where children have better outcomes,” says Carter, who joined Child Care Services in July after serving for 20 years in the state Division of Child Development and Early Education, most recently as deputy director.

Child Care Resources also has licensed that program to groups in 24 other states, and recently receive a $1 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., to do more innovative work in some of those states. A total of 120,000 early care and education teachers have received scholarships through that program.

Salary supplements through the agency’s Child Care Wages program, launched in 1994 in Orange  County, boost the compensation for about 4,600 early care and education teachers and administrators throughout the state each year.

The supplement has helped reduce the turnover rate among the state’s estimated 30,000 early childhood teachers and administrators to 14 percent from 19 percent, Carter says.

Child Care Services, which this year has served almost one million meals to children in Orange and Durham counties, now hopes to expand its nutrition program to Wake County.

It also provides child care scholarships for parents in Durham County; technical assistance in Durham, Orange and Wake counties to help child care programs improve their services; and professional development workshops and courses in the Triangle for child care directors, teachers and home providers.

“There’s not a silver bullet,” Carter says, “for the variety of resources and supports that are needed to make sure children get that quality they need to succeed later in life.”


First Tee works to help kids build character

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last May, at the close of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, Scott Langley was one of four golfers on the PGA tour who volunteered to read to kids who are enrolled in The First Tee of Charlotte, the local chapter of a national organization that uses golf  to teach character development to children.

Langley, a Texas native who in 2010 as an amateur made the cut for the U.S. Open and then turned professional in 2011, also is the first graduate of The First Tee to play on the PGA tour.

“We use the game of golf, but we teach character issues,” says Ike Grainger, a former vice president of business development for Charlotte-based commercial construction company Shelco who joined First Tee in November as executive director after serving five months on an interim basis.

Founded 10 years ago, First Tee of Charlotte is one of 188 chapters in 50 states of First Tee, a national nonprofit based on St. Augustine, Fla., that has introduced golf and its values to over five million participants who otherwise might not have had an opportunity to play.

The local chapter serves roughly 800 kids a year ages five to 18 through an after-school program in the spring and fall, and one-week camps in the summer.

It also offers a program created by its national office that provides equipment and a curriculum, as well as training for physical education teachers, to teach basic life skills at elementary schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

First Tee is working to expand all those programs.

Operating with an annual budget of $500,000, First Tee generates roughly 40 percent of its funds through partnerships with Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

First Tee offers its after-school programming Mondays through Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., with each child participating once a week for either five weeks or 10 weeks.

Sessions are held at First Tee’s offices in the former pro shop at Revolution Golf Course, a nine-hole course off I-77 South that is owned by Mecklenburg County.

With 150 active volunteers assisting in the programs, kids get lessons in life skills and golf.

Lessons on putting, for example, include lessons on courtesy and sportsmanship. Last summer, First Tee offered it summer camps at Charles T. Myer Golf Course in northeast Mecklenburg County and at Rocky River Golf Course in Cabarrus County.

In partnership with Ballantyne Country Club, First Tee each May sponsors the annual Rudolph-Dadey Memorial Golf Tournament, which has generated a total of $18,000 since 2010 to support college scholarships for First Tee graduates.

First Tee also is offering the National School Program in 81 elementary schools, supported with $100,000 grants from Wells Fargo each of the past two years, and a $50,000 matching grant from Howard Levine, CEO of Family Dollar Stores, that First Tee matched, dollar for dollar.

First Tee plans to expand the schools program in 2014 to Cabarrus and Catawba counties.

It also sends some of its kids to leadership academies throughout the U.S. that are sponsored by its national organization.

“Our goal,” Grainger says, “is to give kids character.”

Talking about charity seen as key to kids’ giving

The best way to get children to give to charity is for parents to talk to their kids about giving, rather than just setting an example for their children and making donations themselves, a new study says.

Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give to charity than children whose parents do not discuss giving with them, says Women Give 2013, a study from the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Talking to children about charity is an effective strategy both for girls and boys, and across race, age and income groups, the study says.

“Parents giving to charity is not enough to teach children to be charitable,” the study says. “Focused, intentional  teaching by talking to children about charity is what works.”

Nearly nine of 10 children ages eight to 19 give to charity, with girls and boys equally likely to donate money, although girls are more likely than boys to volunteer, says the study, which is based on interviews and follows the same 903 children in 2002-03 and in 2007-09.

Nearly nine in 10 children across all income levels had parents who talked to them at least once during those two time periods about charitable giving, with girls and boys equally likely to have had those conversations.

About eight in 10 children had parents who gave to charity at least once during the two periods, with boys and girls equally likely to have parents who gave to charity.

And nine in 10 children gave to charity at least once during the two periods.

Family income does not affect children’s giving to charity, says the study, which controlled for other factors known to affect charitable giving.

“Talking to children about charity significant affects children’s giving behavior,” says the study, which was produced through a partnership of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, and the United Nations Foundation.

“Children living in households who have a parent who talks to them about charity have a greater likelihood of donating to charity, compared to children whose parents do not talk to them about giving to charity,” it says.

The effect of talking is significant even after controlling for other factors that affect giving, including whether the household donated to charity, the study says.

Volunteering is a common practice among children, with 49 percent of girls, 39 percent of boys and 44 percent of all children volunteering in one year.

Todd Cohen

West Raleigh Baseball Association boosts kids, charity

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Eighty people, mainly children, helped raise over $30,000 last May to support cancer programs and research by shaving their heads.

The event, for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, was sponsored by the West Raleigh Baseball Association, a nonprofit spun off in the early 1990s from the West Raleigh Exchange Club.

Growing out of a youth baseball league the Club established in 1958 to help advance its mission of providing “service to family, community and country,” the Association serves over 800 children ages four to 14 through a baseball program each spring and fall.

The League operates with an annual budget of roughly $300,000, a full-time operations director and part-time bookkeeper, and nearly 100 volunteers, and generates all its revenue from registration fees and raffles.

The Association holds all its games on three fields at Exchange Club Park in West Raleigh, and pays rent to the Exchange Club to use those fields for games and practices, and to the city of Raleigh and the town of Cary to use their fields for practices.

The Association also supports charitable causes through volunteering and donations from dollars its raises at special events, says Gary Feder, president of the Association and general counsel at Lulu Press, a self-publishing company in Raleigh.

For many years, the Association raised nearly $10,000, mainly in in-kind support, to collect and prepare food for charities.

But this year, the group decided to step up its fundraising.

It teamed up with the Raleigh-based Vs. Cancer Foundation, which was created by Chase Jones, who as a freshman member of the varsity baseball team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer.

“The best part,” Feder says, was that the children returned to school after the event and had to explain why their heads were shaved.

“It started influencing teachers and friends and families, creating more awareness for kids with cancer,” he says.

The Foundation has divided the funds the Association raised between Duke Children’s Hospital, which will use the funds to buy iPads and computer games to improve the quality of life for kids undergoing chemotherapy, and for national research efforts.

In addition to its event for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, the Association for about 10 years has worked with the Exchange Club to deliver meals to the pediatric bone marrow transplant unit at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

One or two Sundays a month, 12 families from the Association each create a large dish and bring it to the Exchange Club, with Club members then delivering the dishes for use by family members staying with their children who are patients in the transplant unit.

The Association also holds two food drives a year to benefit Urban Ministries of  Wake County.

This spring, its drive generated 3,000 pounds of food worth over $6,000.

“As an organization, we want to be able to give back to the community,” Feder says. “Our kids are fortunate to be part of a great program. We’re an affluent community. We want our kids to learn more about life through baseball as well as giving to others.”

Children’s Home Society works to provide stability for kids

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thirty-eight times a day, on average, every day of the year, a child is reported abused or neglected to the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services.

Creating “permanence” for children in the foster care system in Mecklenburg and 23 other counties stretching to the Asheville area is the Charlotte-based West regional office of Children’s Home Society, a Greensboro-based nonprofit that serves 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Operating with over 50 full-time staff, the regional office last year served over 1,800 children and families, most of them in Mecklenburg County, and invested over $5 million in the region’s economy through program and staffing expenses.

The regional office recently purchased a 15,000-square-foot building on East Seventh Street for $2.2 million from Matthews-based Thompson Child & Family Focus, and has consolidated employees who had been located in two separate facilities.

“Getting all the Children’s Home Society staff located in one place together will make us more efficient and allow us to better serve kids and families,” says Frank H. Crawford Jr., regional vice president in the West region for the agency.

And because Charlotte is one of three main hubs for the agency, in addition to Greensboro and Raleigh, he says, “being a property owner is investing in this community, and we want to invest just like the community is investing in us.”

Children’s Home Society, which in 2010 merged with Youth Homes, receives funding from federal, state and county government for roughly 60 cents of every dollar it spends, and for the remainder counts on private dollars through fundraising and events and from foundations, corporations and individual donors, says Crawford, who served for 17 years as CEO of Youth Homes.

The agency borrowed funds to finance the new headquarters for the regional office, and now is planning a statewide multimillion-dollar comprehensive fundraising campaign that will include funds to repay the loan but mainly will focus on the array of programs it provides for children and families, he says.

Those programs, he says, all are designed to move children from the temporary solution of foster care to a permanent solution.

They include reuniting with a family a child who has been removed from the family by addressing the issues that led to the removal; finding alternative placement of the child with someone in the child’s extended family who can provide a safe and stable living environment; and recruiting families from the general population, and providing them with training and support, so they can adopt a child.

Significantly fewer children are in foster care than they were 10 years ago, Crawford says, because public agencies and nonprofits like Children’s Home Society now are providing more preventive care, including”intensive family preservation services,” that often keep kids out of foster care.

“We’ve recognized more than ever before that children who do get involved with the foster care system have significant mental health issues,” he says. “So there’s been a surge in treatment opportunities for children who come into foster care.”

Nonprofit works to help homeless families find stability

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two years ago, PLM Families Together provided emergency housing for homeless families at 33 Raleigh apartments it owned and leased.

But the nonprofit found that, even though its program was intended to provide short-term housing for families in crisis, they tended to settle in rather than working aggressively to “move on to their own permanent place,” says Beth Bordeaux, executive director of the nonprofit.

Short-term housing creates more of a “home-like” environment than many homeless families have been used to, and it becomes easy to begin to build their lives around the “illusion” of a sense of stability and in the process lose a “sense of urgency,” she says.

“The sense of urgency is what’s necessary to make change happen,” she says. “We want  that stability to start when people are in their own place, not our place.”

To help keep its client families motivated to rebuild their lives, she says, PLM Families Together decided a year ago to reduce the number of apartments it used for emergency housing and expand its program by providing “rehousing” services.

Those services, consisting of financial support and intensive case management support, are designed to get families out of emergency housing  and into their own apartments.

The new strategy, launched in February, has begun to show results: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the agency moved roughly 70 families into permanent housing, up from 57 families a year earlier.

“One of the difficulties that families have is dealing with those initial expenses of moving in,” Bordeaux says.

“The families we work with all have income,” she says. “Most of them are working families. They’re at a place or close to a place where they can afford to live in an apartment they lease themselves.”

But they typically experience an “event,” such as the loss of a job or a car, a medical issue, or even the loss of an apartment because a landlord ran into financial difficulty, she says, that “pushes them over the edge” and leaves them homeless.

PLM Families Services still owns eight apartments, including six for families and two it uses for offices, and leases another four apartments.

And it provides financial support to help families move out of its short-term housing and into their own apartments, plus rent for the first few months in their new apartments, as well as case management services for a year.

Those services include meetings at least once a week, at least initially, and assistance in creating and following a household budget; determining how big an apartment the family needs and can afford; reviewing the lease; and meeting and learning how to work with a landlord.

A mentor advocate from the agency also attends the lease signing to provide any support or information the family may need.

Operating with an annual budget of $800,000 and a staff of seven people, plus volunteer interns from schools of social work at Triangle universities, PLM Families Together over the past three years has reduced to 50 percent from 60 percent the share of its funding from government, and aims to reduce it even more this year, with the remainder coming from private support.

This year, it raised $130,000 in its first-ever annual campaign.

And on October 24, it will host a fundraising dinner and evening of jazz at the Brownstone DoubleTree on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The event last year raised roughly $100,000.

“Government money is not always going to be stable money,” Bordeaux says. “It’s also good business to have a diversified funding stream.”

Teaming up to feed kids in summer

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]

PITTSBORO, N.C. — Over 4,000 students in the Chatham County Schools, or half the student population, are eligible for federally-funded free or reduced lunches.

To make sure those children get nutritious meals during the summer, a coalition of partner agencies, funders and volunteers led by the Chatham Outreach Alliance in Pittsboro provides five breakfasts and five lunches a week for 10 weeks for over 1,000 children.

“Our program is designed to replace the meals they would have gotten were they in school during the summer,” says Beth Budd, executive director of Chatham Outreach Alliance, or CORA.

Like CORA, the Raleigh-based Inter-Faith Food Shuttle provides food during the summer for some of the 116,000 children in the seven counties it serves who are eligible for free and reduced lunches at school.

Five days a week, for example, its program that trains unemployed and underemployed adults for culinary jobs prepares 75 lunches for children at the East Durham Children’s Initiative, and another 40 lunches for girls at Full Circles Foundation in Raleigh.

The Food Shuttle also will be delivering meals once a week with its mobile food truck for up to 200 children at the Chavis Park Community Center in Raleigh in partnership with Dancing in the Park, an exercise and entertainment event organized by Southeast Raleigh Assembly.

And it delivers meals twice a week to roughly 100 children in the Parrish Manor neighborhood, a manufactured home community in Garner.

To provide those summer feeding programs, often involving complicated logistics, CORA and the Food Shuttle count on private funding, partnerships with multiple agencies, and a corps of volunteers.

Chatham Outreach Alliance

CORA, which launched the summer food program on a pilot basis in 2009, when it served 120 kids, works with over 200 volunteers and aims to raise $140,000 to support the program this year, although it recently learned that large statewide foundation had declined its application for a $20,000 grant.

With only Budd and a pantry coordinator, both working 35 hours a week, plus a 20-hour-a-week summer coordinator, the summer program costs $156 per child, although CORA typically has only $120 to $135 to spend per child, depending on how much it can raise, thus limiting the number of children it can serve.

To get food into the hands of kids who need it in a county with just over 700 square miles, CORA partners with 16 churches and other organizations that act as distribution sites.

Another partner, Chatham Trades, a nonprofit in Siler City that hires and trains adults with developmental disabilities, receives the food, packages it into weekly boxes, and delivers it to the distribution sites.

“Transportation is a problem for a lot of families,” Budd says. “We try to get the food as close to the families as we can.”

Formed in 1989 by a coalition of pastors from local churches that provided their own pantries but saw a need for a more centralized way to address demand for food assistance in the county, CORA will have served a week’s worth of food for over 17,000 people, or about 200 tons of food, in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

Each summer, the Food Shuttle identifies communities that are home to a lot of kids who need food, and it partners with agencies that provide activities for children and that work with volunteers who can help serve the food it provides, says Terri Hutter, vice president for food service and culinary training at the Food Shuttle.

Food Shuttle staff, including graduates of its culinary job training program, for example, prepare food in its kitchen, and then the agency delivers the food for children attending summer camp at the East Durham Children’s Initiative, where volunteers and staff members serve the food and provide other activities.

In addition to its summer food programs for children, the Food Shuttle also buys or receives donations of fresh produce and loads it into its fleet of 13 refrigerated trucks, which deliver food to over 40 locations a month throughout the year the seven counties it serves.

“We roll into a neighborhood and set up a market, in partnership with local group, where people can shop for free for a few hours,” says Cindy Sink, director of communications at the Food Shuttle.

The agency also hopes over the summer to increase the number of locations it serves with its mobile food truck — known at the agency as the “mobile tastiness machine” — and through delivering prepared foods.

“We certainly need every organization that can be feeding children to join in,” Hutter says.