(Editor's note: The following story is published with permission from the Akron Area Eutopia Report.)
The Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) does much more than just house people. It isn't a free ride, and people are closely screened to make sure that they are truly in need and eligible.
"The truth is, when somebody applies for public housing they go through more scrutiny than most people do in getting a job," Anthony O'Leary, Executive Director of AMHA, said. Family members, income, birth certificates, immigration status, military status and criminal records are all checked.
"And we repeat it once a year," O'Leary said. "We actually have to re-certify people and their income's checked."
Also, families do have to pay rent in their Section 8 Program, but it is on a sliding scale according to the family's income. If their income goes up, so does their rent. If it falls, so does their rent.
Early childhood education initiative
One of the most important things that AMHA has realized over the years is that generational poverty continues this problematic cycle and it has to end with the children paving a new way.
Giving children a good education is what enables them to strive for greater things and break out of the poverty cycle. This is why AMHA started their early childhood education initiative.
"We've looked at studies nationally, and for every dollar you invest in early childhood education there's studies that say anywhere from 7 to 17 dollars comes back to the economy. You are saving on prison costs and public assistance because hopefully these people won't have to rely on public assistance. You're getting more people in the work force, so you've got tax dollars out there. There are all sorts of things that are contributing a huge return on your dollar," explained Chris Yuhasz, community relations director for AMHA.
"One of the things we noticed was that a lot of these families don't care how to hold a book when they can't put food on the table. So we're here to help them with their basic needs and refer them to one of the social workers on staff so that if they need furniture, if they need help with utility assistance or something like that, we can help stabilize that family and make sure that they are in a position where they are open and their mind is free enough so that they can actually concentrate on their kids," Yuhasz said.
The truth is, 20 percent of children in Summit County aren't ready for kindergarten right now. And the percentage increases, the further into the inner city you get.
"On a national average, 88 percent of those kids won't pass their third grade proficiency test. In some states they use that as a predictor of the number of prison cells they're going to need down the road, which is really scary," Yuhasz shared.
Therefore, AMHA is doing all they can to prepare children for school. They do this through their "Parents as Teachers" program, and by conducting health, hearing, developmental, social, emotional and nutritional assessments on the children. "If you aren't nurtured properly you aren't going to be able to focus in school," Yuhasz said.
Getting parents involved
AMHA believes that success starts in the home and works with parents, teaching them how to be their child's first and most important teacher.
"We use a program called 'Parents as Teachers,' which is an evidence-based national program that's been shown to really help kids get ready for kindergarten. It's designed to teach the parents how to be their child's first and most important teacher," Yuhasz said. Often, the parent's parents didn't value education, so they don't see it as a priority in their children's lives.
"Helping parents learn how to help their kids to understand the importance of all this really makes a big difference," Yuhasz said. "They care just as much as any other parent cares, the thing is, especially with generational poverty, they just don't know how," Yuhasz explained. "Their mom didn't do it right, their grandmother probably didn't do it right. They end up being like little sponges because they want to do right by their children, they just haven't had examples.
"We try to provide those examples. We try to build the trust in maintaining relationships with these folks so that (we can refer them to different programs)," Yuhasz continued.
Once children have gone through AMHA's school readiness program, there is a drastic difference reported. "By the time they begin school, kids of low income are able to perform reading, math and basic skill kind-of-things at the same level as others who are doing well in school. They do much better in school and much better in life. Despite low income they're gonna get good grades, stay in school and have a much higher probability of success," O'Leary said.
And those at AMHA aren't the only ones who've recognized such great value in early childhood education.