Elevate 10,000 Families to Self-Sufficiency by 2030
Over the past year, in collaboration with the greatest thought leaders of our community, we reviewed local data and conducted a “community listening tour” in which we tracked down hundreds of families’ stories to help shape our next course of action, which is to “elevate 10,000 families to self-sufficiency by 2030.” This approach will be facilitated through a cradle-to-career continuum of support that will help this generation break out of the cycle of generational poverty.
Poverty is the critical backdrop that shapes the lives of families in the Roanoke Valley. Over 21,000 families (25%) in our community fall within 200% of the federal poverty line. This means that despite best efforts, many working families are struggling to meet their daily needs. Without the right interventions, poverty becomes cyclical–something that is passed on to the next generation.
On the surface, it may seem to be merely about the lack of financial resources, however, poverty comes with a myriad of challenges that impede a family’s ability to move forward, including unstable or crowded housing, unemployment, food insecurity, exposure to violence, addiction, incarceration, undereducated adults and the large amounts of time required to try to find and secure assistance when necessary.
When these conditions are present, young children struggle to meet the developmental benchmarks needed to be ready for school. In our area, over 400 children (15%) show up in kindergarten ill-equipped and unprepared, and once they enter kindergarten behind, they stay behind. We see this trend continuing as students are unable to read when they reach the 3rd grade level–an important skill that allows them to “read to learn” for the rest of their lives.
It is no surprise that areas with the greatest concentration of poverty overlap with the attendance zone of schools with the most number of children who are struggling to read. These same conditions influence a student’s ability to stay in school, and graduate from high school. Without at least a high school diploma, a person’s earning potential is severely limited. A high school graduate will earn, on average, 74% more over a lifetime than a high school dropout, and those who earn a diploma are 15% more likely to be employed than their peers who drop out.
Working to Break the Cycle
With very intentional efforts from our public schools, and support from the entire community, we have seen great strides towards increasing the local high school graduation rate from 83% to 89% since 2010 (average for all area public schools). This demonstrates that with focused effort, a rallying of resources to support students, and early intervention we have the ability to reverse trends as a community!
These examples and others reveal an important story of what generational poverty can mean to children. Over 11,200 families with children under 18 in the Roanoke Valley experience this every day. And almost half of them live in what has been identified as medically underserved areas (MUAs) in the City of Roanoke. These areas represent neighborhoods designated as having too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty or a high elderly population.
The conditions give a glimpse of why people are not as healthy as they could be, and how a family’s well-being is affected by where they live. Many local families face multiple health or mental health issues, and are unable to afford medicine, doctor or dentist appointments, and healthy food. This combination of factors frustrates a family’s ability to help their children be successful in school, attain adult education, stay healthy, and be self-sufficient.
Amongst all of these areas, one thing is clear: our work is connected. In households where children are struggling in school, there are often older family members facing their own set of challenges: not earning enough to make ends meet, not having an emergency fund, or not having access to healthcare. The pillars of education, income, and health are not experienced in isolation and our solutions can’t be isolated if we expect to truly address the needs of our families in a lasting way.