We are Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County and 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% (3,436) of the children in Buncombe County.
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.
100% of the families we serve are living in poverty with incomes below $19,000/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. The families living in the two public housing communities served by our Learning Center students have an average income of less than $6,000 per 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%).
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, parenting classes and a community garden. The Project POWER/AmeriCorps program provides mentoring and enrichment activities to youth living in Buncombe County. Learning Centers are safe haven and holistic afterschool programs for 60 at-risk elementary school aged children living in two public housing complexes 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 Success Coordinator connects students and their families to critical community resources with the goal of empowering students to stay in school and achieve in life. The Success Coordinators provide students with a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult, and a safe place to learn and grow.
In addition to direct services, Children First/CIS engages in public policy advocacy campaigns 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. In response to the growing rate of children living in poverty, the Success Equation was created to unite the community to reduce and prevent the root causes of poverty, so all children can thrive.