A nonprofit started to support troubled youth was officially welcomed into the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce this week.
About 20 chamber and community members attended the Communities in Schools’ open house on Tuesday night at Scotia Village.
Communities in Schools of North Carolina employs an executive director, Maria Bingham, as well as two school-level site coordinators: Janna Blue at North Laurinburg Elementary and James McLean at Carver Middle School.
“As Laurinburg’s primary cheerleader, this is one of those bright moments,” Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker said. “It seems that our school system is one of the first to do everything, whether it’s one-on-one computers or Maria bringing Communities In Schools here tonight.”
Communities in Schools of North Carolina CEO Linda Harrill was expected to speak, but was unable to attend on Tuesday. Arlene Wouters, director of developing communities for the organization, provided an overview of what Communities in Schools does.
“Our mission is to surround students with a community of support which helps them to achieve better in school and also to be successful in life,” said Wouters. “I was here in the very beginning stages when we were just looking at having a Communities In Schools program, so to be here now when we actually have on going on, and we are serving two schools, it’s really exciting.”
Communities in Schools administers programs in 28 states, with 44 programs in North Carolina counties. The Scotland County effort, founded in 2011, serves a total of 90 students at Carver Middle School and North Laurinburg Elementary School.
The program works to help the children in the schools it serves, but its fundamental purpose is to prevent “at-risk” youth from dropping out of school later in their education.
“Our model is to have a coordinator in the school who works with a team on site, and 10 percent of the students there are case managed,” Wouters said. “Those are the kids that have more intensive needs, and then eight to 12 times a year we provide level one services, which can be a backpack drive at the beginning of the year, bringing a STEM bus to the school so the whole school can go in.”
The organization helps the children of financially struggling parents to overcome the barriers to educational access that they experience, officials said.
“So many of our children just don’t see hope, they don’t see a way out of situations that they’re in, and that’s why it takes a village,” said Wouters. “I have worked with parents at very high incomes, and parents with low incomes and in poverty, and asked them to chart what it is that they want for their kids. You would not know which chart came from which group of parents, because they all want their kids to have a good education and be successful in life. The difference is that some parents know how to access resources and other parents don’t.”
The organization is working to create avenues for other community organizations to become involved with targeted students.
“What we do when we go into a community is we take a look at all the things that are already going on in the community; we do not want to duplicate services,” said Wouters. “What we often find is that there are a lot of resources in the community, but they’re fragmented, they’re not working together, they’re not coordinated… We take a look at those fragmented services, bring them all together, and enlist everyone in the community: your business community, communities of faith, public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and then look at concentrating those services at the school sites where the kids are.”
Chamber of Commerce Chairman Becca Hughes welcomed Communities in Schools to its network of businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“This organization is new, but it has done good things already and I’m excited that we’re going to continue to be partners, Hughes said. “The Chamber has been very involved in whatever organization was helping the schools do a better job. We all know that if our kids are successful, then our community can be more successful.”