Communities In Schools receives $25,000 Duke Energy grant

Posted 11/19/20

Communities in Schools Chatham County, a non-profit delinquency prevention organization which provides a network of support for local students, has received $25,000 in funding from Duke Energy as …

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Communities In Schools receives $25,000 Duke Energy grant

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Communities in Schools Chatham County, a non-profit delinquency prevention organization which provides a network of support for local students, has received $25,000 in funding from Duke Energy as part of a $1 million grant program to support North Carolina organizations focused on social justice and racial equity.

CISCC was one of 40 such organizations across the state selected for the program, and the only one in Chatham County.

“We all have a role and responsibility in advancing justice and equity,” said Duke Energy’s North Carolina president, Stephen De May, in a press release. “Duke Energy is committed to creating equal opportunities for the communities we serve, and we’re proud to support organizations already leading this critical work across North Carolina.”

Formerly known as Chatham County Together!, CISCC has been a community advocate for social justice and racial equity since the group’s founding as a mentoring agency in 1989, according to executive director Tych Cowdin. The organization, based in Siler City, runs seven programs designed to address individual and community risk factors which have historically promoted disparate opportunities for youth in Chatham County.

“So, addressing issues of racial inequity is really something we’ve been engaged with since our inception,” Cowdin said.

Between 2019 and 2020, 82% of the 265 children involved in CISCC programs identified as people of color.

“And so, we certainly are focusing on that demographic,” Cowdin said, “and are hoping to continue to make a difference to improve outcomes for racial minorities. So that’s what we’ve been doing with our work. And, you know, we’re going to continue to do that going forward.”

The grant arrives at a critical time for CISCC as the non-profit navigates pandemic circumstances that have upended much of its regular activity. The public education system has adjusted dramatically in recent months and CISCC has had to pivot accordingly.

“I mean, we’re Communities in Schools,” Cowdin said. “So, obviously, schools are closed down, right? However, we are more than just being in the schools. We are liaisons between the students, the schools and the community, and the resources that are available. And so, we were able to just continue our work. It looks a little bit different now, obviously, since a lot of our work was done in the school building. But we’ve kind of taken that out into the community.”

Besides academic assistance, which program members still receive via remote learning applications and virtual tutors, CISCC provides emotional support that can make a tremendous difference in helping underprivileged youth overcome barriers to success. Many CISCC children, who span ages 5 to 19, were referred to the organization by the school system, social services, juvenile justice or health providers.

“Case managed youth display persistent social-emotional, health, and/or developmental risk factors that increase their probability for dropping out of school before graduation,” Cowdin wrote in his application for the Duke grant. “Our versatile and nimble services are able to address a wide range of risk factors that act as critical connections for many of our communities most marginalized youth.”

Introducing a measure of stability and emphasizing the need to graduate from high school helps stymie the insidious “school to prison pipeline,” Cowdin said.

“And that’s something that’s become even more necessary since the start of the pandemic,” he added, “addressing those mental health needs. So, a lot of phone calls, a lot of conversations, a lot of virtual connections with our youth. And we’ve turned into a mini food hub.”

The CISCC office, located at 208 N. Chatham Ave., keeps nonperishable foods in stock and available free of charge for any of its students who may need a meal. It has also partnered with several local organizations to secure foodstuffs for preparation and delivery to families in need.

“Through some great partnerships, food providers such as the Pittsboro Roadhouse and CORA,” Cowdin said, “and churches here in Siler City like United Holiness Church and First Missionary Baptist Church, we’ve worked together to put together resources so we can deliver food out to families.”

The combined efforts have yielded about 30 meals per week, according to Cowdin’s estimation.

Strategic partnerships have also helped CISCC provide structured and safe learning environments while schools remain closed.

“We’ve been working with local cafes, the Peppercorn Cafe in Siler City, as well as a new co-working space called the Alliance,” Cowdin said. “So, we’ve been able to work with those partners to secure quiet learning spaces with internet and printers for kids to come and visit. We’ve also been providing in-person academic assistance in those settings as well.”

Generous partners have been instrumental in helping CISCC to maintain operations, but its work is still costly. Duke’s grant will, therefore, help substantially in the organization’s effort to continue and expand on its mission.

“There’s a few ways that we’re planning to utilize this money,” Cowdin said. “First is to continue to generate greater organizational sustainability. You know, we’ve been able to adapt our services — bilingual communication, leveraging growing partnerships with the schools and the Department of Public Safety, providing basic needs, social-emotional connections with families — and this will enable us to maintain those integrated student supports. And when I say maintain, I mean, it’s going to secure funding for us to keep people on the ground. It’s going to help pay some salaries for folks to continue this important work.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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