July 23, 2014

Elyria
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Councilman seeks unity in block grant distributions

ELYRIA — A group of people committed to helping children succeed gathered Thursday at City Hall to discuss a new way to push that agenda.

The meeting was spearheaded by Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, who wants those community leaders to set aside individual needs for a more collaborative approach that he believes will yield better results.

Madison, who has lived on the south side of the city his entire life, wants to use the Harlem Children Zone concept as the foundation for a partnership in which groups serving children in his ward work together to reach kids in and out of school.

The Harlem Children’s Zone approach includes parenting workshops, a preschool program, three public charter schools and child-oriented health programs for thousands of children and families. Madison is not looking to duplicate the Harlem program exactly, but he believes pieces can fit well in Elyria.

But before he can move forward, Madison will need the groups to back away from funding requests through the city’s Community Development Block Grant program. Instead, he wants between $25,000 and $30,000 to provide direct service to the children in the ward.

At this point, there is no guarantee Madison’s proposal will result in funding. A meeting is set for Monday when City Council’s  Community Development and Finance Committees will discuss the 2013 CDBG budget.

But Madison, 25, is talking to those who want funding, believing he may have a better chance of lobbying for his collaborative effort than to see the nonprofits get turned down.

He also knows Mayor Holly Brinda has a plan of her own — $100,000 to start a revolving loan fund for downtown businesses — that could derail his idea.

Madison said all of the different groups in the city are doing great work, but it’s time to do more to ensure all of the needs of youths in the community are being addressed, which is why he thinks the umbrella approach should be implemented.

“I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said. “We have to start looking at this as one group working together instead of four or five organizations fighting for the same amount of funding.”

Determining who gets CDBG dollars is something Council tackles every year. However, in recent years the money available to nonprofit groups — only a small amount of the total allocation can go toward public service needs — has shrunk. As a result, the process ends up pitting one group against another for a small pool of grant money.

The 2013 CDBG allocation will be roughly $771,000 — a combination of $585,000 in new allocations as well as money left over from 2012. However, guidelines and a calculation system provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development limit the city to setting aside a little more than $94,000 to provide monetary support to groups such as Save Our Children, Neighborhood Alliance and Second Baptist Church’s Adopt-a-School initiative.

The rest of the funding must go toward administrative needs, housing rehabilitation and other activities in neighborhoods that have low- to moderate-income populations.

So far, the proposed budget for 2013 doesn’t include any public service allocations beyond $6,000 for fair housing.

Community Development Director Angie Byington said Council would have to reduce dollars in other activities to fund Madison’s idea and the requests of the outside groups.

Madison is planning a visit to New York the week of Dec. 17 to see the Harlem Children’s Zone concept in action. In late November, he went to Washington, D.C., to learn about the Promise Neighborhood initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, which is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone concept.

“It caught my eye because it says that we will make sure the children in our neighborhood will not go hungry, they will be ready for kindergarten, they will be supported in school and will be on track to go to college,” he said.

The concept had many in the room looking at the bigger picture of social services programs in the community. David Smith, executive director of three Horizon Activities Centers in Elyria, said he also has seen gaps in what help is available for kids, especially those who live in Wilkes Villa, where one of his centers is.

“The biggest threat I see on the horizon is the third-grade reading guarantee, and we need to close the gap between the high-performing students and the low-performing students,” he said. “It can be as simple of better early childhood and summer literacy programs.”

Brinda said Madison’s idea sounds promising, but she hedged on full support. This summer, she held a summer camp program that served 500 city children, and she does not want to see community support drawn away from broadening the camps in 2013.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to duplicate services,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with focusing on the south side, but we have to also make sure the children on the north side are served and just as ready for success.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.