By Katie Sobiech
Early childhood education has been on the forefront of many minds, including County Executive Russ Pry. The Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) doesn’t ignore that, but hopes to line up with Pry’s vision and the county initiative.
Pry developed Summit County’s First Things First, a county effort for early childhood education, as he recognized the importance of touching the lives of children early on in their development.
“We really follow the things that they’re trying to do. They’ve identified priorities and the outcome so we want to make sure that we’re consistent with the goals of the community,” Chris Yuhasz, Community Relations Director, said of working side by side with First Things First.
On creating programs of lasting impact Yuhasz continued, “Russ Pry’s approach is ‘let’s have an approach for the whole county’. Let’s not just have all these disconnected pieces going on. It’s great what AMHA is doing, it’s great what Child Guidance has always done, what Head Start does, but let’s all pull together and make sure we know whether we’re making progress, so someone doesn’t look back 5 years from now and say ‘Oh yeah, they used to do that. It was great but it went away’,”
Their goal is to establish a collaboration of strong community partners working together, which is key to making this project a success.
Making Lasting Impact
AMHA has recently begun a new initiative to track children’s progress in programs to see what works and what doesn’t.
“We want to think about ‘what contribution did we make [that will have impact] 20 years from now?’ You know, ‘What happened to prison costs as a result of what we’re doing? What happened to the number of people on public assistance? What happened to employment as a result of what we’ve done?'” Yuhasz said.
“We’re really working on this continuum and we have a little bit of a gap in our youth services, but we learned from research that we have to start with kindergarten readiness. If you just pop yourself into their lives in high school the chances of really being able to impact them is not as great,” she continued.
Yuhasz pointed out services like the Boys and Girls club in Akron that do a great job at youth services.
“What we’re really happy about is all of this being tracked both by research and evaluation so we can actually see what’s working and what isn’t,” Yuhasz said.
AMHA will be tracking kids’ grades in school from kindergarten readiness through graduation.
“We’ll be able to see longitudinally whether or not this made a difference and how much of a difference it made,” Yuhasz said.
The goal is finding the program model that gets the best results. They will be able to see which program or combination of programs did the most to impact kindergarten readiness through this process.
Summit Lake Learning Center
One of their biggest dreams soon to become a reality is their Summit Lake Learning Center. This will be right in the center of one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Akron.
“When the center gets built, the whole idea is to bring services to where the residents are,” Anthony O’Leary, Executive Director of AMHA, said.
Akron Public Schools will have two kindergarten classrooms there. The hope is to provide a stable structure for these children, close to home, with many connections and services that they need to function and grow in the best way possible.
“It was designed so that we could add first and second grade classrooms down the road. And our goal is to continue to do that,” Yuhasz said.
“We’re looking at after school programming so that we can keep following these kids and making sure that we’re doing things for them and at the same time stabilizing the families. We’re helping them get jobs, we’re helping them get training, education, GED’s and things like that,” she continued, “It’s a real investment in the neighborhood.”
Training for Kids and Adults
The center will be operated by AMHA with community partners playing their individual roles. And it won’t just be for kids, but their parents too.
For example, Goodwill Industries will be there doing job prep. The Job Center and Job and Family Services are already on board to help as well.
Yuhasz says they would like to see someone from the Job Center there a couple days a week for people to make appointments. Or Goodwill to do a presentation on resume writing and offering classes. Things like this will provide opportunities for greater success within families as a whole.
“We’re also looking at other possibilities to get people trained for jobs,” Yuhasz said.
They continue to look at this as a continuum, working on jobs and education.
“(We’ll be) ‘cycling’ people through, getting them ‘up and out’ and into the workforce which is, quite frankly, much harder than managing real estate,” Yuhasz said.
“The hope is that this will lead to other things. The city has plans to revitalize and upgrade a lot of the housing stock. There are a couple of non-profits here building some new homes in the neighborhood. We’ve got at least a couple of businesses that are very concerned about what’s going on here,” Yuhasz explained.
“We do so much and have so much to contribute to the community. It’s just sort of a well-kept secret, but it’s my favorite one to talk about,” she continued.
Make sure to catch Part Four of this series next week to get the entire vision of AMHA and all that they do for our community! http://www.akronhousing.org/