Comprehensive Community Action Takes Root In North Carolina Header

Opinion

Comprehensive Community Action Takes Root In North Carolina

Jonathan Zaff Executive Director

There is a burgeoning national movement embracing collaboration as a tool for addressing young people’s interconnected needs, bringing together multiple sectors to pursue a common agenda and reach shared goals. 

These efforts, often referred to as “comprehensive community initiatives,” have been backed by the federal government (Promise Neighborhoods and Choice Neighborhoods), national nonprofit networks (Ready by 21, Strive, Communities that Care, Purpose Built Communities), and funders (Annie E. Casey, Wallace Foundation). You can find them in New York City (the Harlem Children’s Zone), Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans and other cities.

That’s the what, who and where of this story. The how hasn’t yet caught up with the increasing interest and action.  

That’s why the Center for Promise is spotlighting the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) in Durham, North Carolina in our new case study, the fourth in a series on exemplar community efforts.

Our goal: to provide communities with guidance on how to maximize their efforts. 

EDCI works with community members and partner organizations to provide a pipeline of services for the 3,000 children and youth living in a 120-block area of East Durham. These services include early childhood interventions, parent and family support, afterschool and summer programs, literacy programs, health and nutrition services, arts programs and community outreach.

Compared to many community collaborations, EDCI has made big strides over the past four years by creating a sustainable infrastructure, developing a strategic plan and diligently following it.  Using data from Duke researchers and feedback from the families in the community not only informs program design, but engages families and their children. 

As a result, the community has grown stronger, as nonprofits collaborate, and parents and educators build bridges and work together.

EDCI’s work began with a small number of dedicated, influential champions. These champions grew into a larger group of compassionate leaders who saw the need for a bold effort to change the direction of a declining neighborhood -- a neighborhood beset by inequities in opportunities for its residents, a lack of economic investment, and the prevalence of gang violence.  

After bringing together more community leaders, the process unfolded with:

  • creation of an evidence-based theory of change
  • formation of a sustainable organizational structure
  • engagement of families and the broader community
  • delivering a pipeline of supports to children, youth and families
  • the use of data to form and refine programs.

Results are promising. Children and youth (and their parents) are signing up for EDCI programs. High-quality activities are available in the neighborhood. And more children are receiving the necessary supports that should predict longer-term academic, social-emotional and vocational successes. 

Two examples of progress: 40 percent of new mothers in East Durham now participate in a home-visiting program, and 360 students in grades K-4 and their families have been connected with the school, social and human services they need.

Arguably more important than these metrics is the feeling residents have when they open their doors and walk around. The streets seem safer. The schools are full of energy. There is a culture of caring and hope that permeates the air. 

EDCI hasn’t solved the problems in four years that have beleaguered East Durham for decades, but there is accelerated progress in the collective effort to make the neighborhood a place where all young people have a real opportunity to thrive.

Read the full EDCI case study.

For more case studies that provide guidance to communities planning to pursue or currently pursuing multi-sector, community-wide efforts, check out East Lake (Atlanta), Parramore Kidz Zone (Orlando), and the New Orleans Kid Partnership (NOKP).

Jon Zaff is the Executive Director of the Center for Promise