Group works to bring two-generation anti-poverty program to Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- An organization that aims to end the cycle of poverty by using a two-generation approach may be coming to Charlottesville.

Courtesy: Kathy D. Graves/Jeremiah Program

"It's intervening in the child, in the life of the family at the right time, which is this early childhood period," said Graham Scharf, who is serving on the steering committee working to raise money to launch the Jeremiah Program here in Charlottesville.

The program started in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1998. It now has chapters in five cities (Charlottesville would be the sixth) and has achieved impressive results.

"Typically, kids in low-income families, only half of them come into kindergarten ready to learn," said Scharf. "Of the families who participate in the Jeremiah Program, it's between 87 and 93 percent of them come into school ready to learn."

The Jeremiah Program provides housing to low-income single mothers in a dorm-style residence hall that's also equipped with high quality day care/preschool. Mothers must have a high school diploma or GED and be ambitious about furthering their educations and careers.

The program's impact on children of single mothers is greatest, Scharf said, because the mother is also given support for her education and career.

"If you only work with the parents, then the kids are left out," he said. "If you only work with the kids and not with the parents, then when it comes to the school age years, the families are not ready to be partners in education."

Scharf, an author and educator who worked in New York City public schools, said he saw firsthand the impact poverty has on learning.

"When I stepped into second- and third-grade classrooms, I found that the brokenness was so deep that it began before those years," he said. He researched the subject, he said, and found that "it's the early years in a family that set the trajectory of a child's life."

Laura Merricks is also on the Jeremiah Program steering committee. She said the Charlottesville program aims to enroll 20 single mothers and their preschool-aged children.

"It provides a good cohort of moms to support and encourage each other," she said. "And it's also a critical mass to be genuinely helpful."

The committee is working to raise $200,000 in 2017 to get the plans off the ground. A total of $5 million must be raised for the Jeremiah Program to become a reality.

Scharf and Merricks say they hope to partner with Piedmont Virginia Community College, and are interested in seeing if they could build the residence hall with on-site day care on the PVCC campus.

PVCC President Frank Friedman said he's intrigued by the program and plans to visit the Minnesota Jeremiah Program to learn more.

"Their mission is to help move people out of poverty to self-sufficiency, and that overlaps greatly with what PVCC does in our community self-sufficiency programs," he said.

Ultimately, he said, the decision about whether to allow the program to build on PVCC's campus won't be up to him since the land is owned by the State Board for Community Colleges.

"If we decide it's something we'd like to pursue, we're going to have to go to the state board and ask for permission to build a facility here."

Charlottesville already has numerous charities for low-income families and children, but Scharf said the Jeremiah Program wouldn't compete with them. It would complement those organizations, he said, and would streamline multiple forms of support for the women and children enrolled.

"What we want to do is align that for the right families for an intensive period of time," he said.

For more information on the Jeremiah Program, see the Related Links box.

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