For many of the organizations leaders, it seemed like another meeting of much "talk" and little action. For those facing dire situations back in their own regions, any time lost would be to the detriment of their communities. A feeling of hopelessness rose from some commentators, which became evident by the frustration in their voices as they spoke.
When the frustration seemed poised to boil over and threaten the collaboration, a new focus brought people together under one banner: children.
For Kalamazoo residents and other counties as well, the idea of focusing on low-income children is not a new idea. The Kalamazoo Promise has often been cited as a model program for other communities.
However, it is quite obvious that all is not well for the youth in Kalamazoo. When a bicycler is attacked by ten loitering teens, it is quite evident there is still much left undone in the community. Reports like the Kid's Count Data Book show that Kalamazoo is still far behind many communities in the several indicators such as education and health.
One interesting program model that was brought up that inspired several in the group was the Harlem Children's Zone. The HCZ is a holistic system of education, social-service and community-building programs aimed at helping the children and families in a 97-block area of Central Harlem.
Some of their successes include:
- 100% of students in the Harlem Gems pre-K program were found to be school-ready for the sixth year in a row.
- 81% of Baby College parents improved the frequency of reading to their children
- $4.8 million returned to 2,935 Harlem residents as a result of HCZ's free tax-preparation service
- 10, 833 number of youth served by HCZ in 2008
For the developers of the HCZ, it would appear this concept was developed from scratch, with little existing programs before hand. However, in Kalamazoo, we already have the foundations several of their parts to develop a similar zone in the area.
What programs do we have, and what areas need improvement? We do have programs that are successful in Kalamazoo County that don't need to be scrapped, but how we determine which programs need to be highlighted must be put in question. Research needs to be accomplished to determine how we would implement the conditions of this very successful program in Southwest Michigan communities.
If we can find the success and gaps in programs to making a similar "zone" for Kalamazoo, the next step could simply be marketing the story in order to increase awareness and access higher sources of funding available for larger programs. Obviously, the next step would be to reach out to other county regions and increase the collaborative effort. The larger and more organized we can be, the better access to resources.
The Harlem Children's Zone is an intriguing program that we should learn from, but we should strive to develop elements that mold specifically to our own local communities.