Location: Davidson, North Carolina
The Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, North Carolina is named after the teacher who was determined to rebuild the Davidson Colored School after it burnt down in 193-. The brick building (one of Ada’s stipulations was that the school be rebuilt in brick so that it could never burn down again) has since been declared a historic site and has undergone many different incarnations. It remained a school until integration, but then served as county and town offices, housed Davidson’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Dance Davidson and is the site of North Carolina’s first integrated preschool.
1n 1994, the Ada Jenkins Center became a 501/3/c community center and has evolved and added programs and services to meet the community’s needs and to address gaps that need to be filled. “Organizationally, we are always focused on working collaboratively with other organizations,” says Georgia Krueger, the Executive Director, “and not duplicating services.”
She should know. Georgia started volunteering at the Ada Jenkins Center in 1994. As the Director of the Lake Norman YMCA, Georgia began a partnership with the Ada Jenkins Center as a part of the YMCA’s focus on community development. “I painted some walls,” Georgia says. She became a board member of the Ada Jenkins Center in 1995 and served two consecutive, three-year terms, and was then made an emeritus board member. In 2007, Georgia agreed to serve as the interim director of the Ada Jenkins Center when the director left. “I offered to fill in to help them get through the search process,” Georgia says. “That was eleven years ago.”
The Ada Jenkins Center still stays true to its original mission of offering an afterschool program and homework help, especially to children who struggle academically and have fallen behind. But under Georgia’s leadership, they now focus on the entire family. Coordinated Services Specialists (“Who are like social workers,” Georgia says) work one on one with the entire family unit. “We help peel back the layers of the onion to get to the root causes of their current place of poverty,” Georgia says. “The whole family is involved in goal planning and dreaming.” With this new approach, Georgia hopes that they will be able to break the cycle of poverty and create lasting solutions for economic stability. She describes the Center’s philosophy as a “two-generation approach” that involves all of the wrap-around services a family needs to get them to economic stability. “The kids end up holding the adults accountable and they get to see role modeling of their parents making progress,” Georgia says. “The second generation will end up in a much better place than the current generation.”
Families come to the Ada Jenkins Center through self-selection, often spurred by some sort of crisis. The criteria for receiving the services the Center provides are geographic (they must live in Huntersville, Cornelius or Davidson, North Carolina) and financial (they can make no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level). The vast majority of the families seeking help are at 125 percent or less of the federal poverty level. Georgia says the first step in helping these families is to throw out some of the numbers that are traditionally used to measure poverty. “Our decision to pick 300 percent of the poverty level was very intentional,” Georgia says. “That is the level that equates to the benefits cliff.” She explains that any family making less than that, about $70,000 per year for a family of four, runs the risk of losing benefits as they make more money. And when something goes wrong – a hospital visit, a car in need of repair – they fall right back to where they were, especially since half of their income tends to go to housing. “We have people who can’t afford to get a raise,” Georgia says, because it means they will be getting less that they were getting with their benefits (such as Welfaire, Medicaid, and food stamps).
In addition to tutoring and after school programming, the Center offers a LEARN Works youth education program (down from 120 students to 60 students due to a lack of funding), medical programs
(including a free clinic, community health nurses (who do nursing and healthcare navigation and education) and a free mobile dental clinic. The education services the Center offers are now extended to adults as well, with workforce development and affordable housing supports also available to the families seeking help. In addition, the Ada Jenkins Center operates Loaves & Fishes, a food pantry where families can put in place some of the lessons they have learned on nutrition and food preparation.
One of the Ada Jenkins Center’s success stories epitomizes the way this full-service, family-centric approach can yield life-changing results. Yanelly first came to the Center because her sons’ school had referred the boys for educational help. It became clear that Yanelly, a single mom, was facing many more challenges than her sons’ problems at school. “We pretty quickly learned that there were medical problems, that their housing was unsafe and not affordable, and that her job was not secure,” Georgia says. “We worked with the whole family to address all the needs.” This year the oldest son is graduating from high school and headed to college. Georgia says the second son is “close on his tail.” The medical problems are resolved and Yanelly has a better job making more money than she ever thought possible. She also has managed to put some money in savings and now owns her own home.
Georgia oversees a staff of 33, twelve of whom are full-time, and a cadre of over nine hundred volunteers. She says she learns things every day from her colleagues and the people they serve. “I thought I had a pretty good understanding about race, inequities and disparities,” she says. “But I had no clue. I have learned so much and now realize how much more I have to learn.” She says that what makes her proudest is what the Ada Jenkins Center is able to offer the people is serves. “We give people respect, dignity and hope,” she says.
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