Opportunity Neighborhoods Nurtures Kids from Cradle to College to Career
New initiative depends on community involvement.
A new initiative uniting neighborhoods, schools, and community resources to help children succeed has started gaining traction.
Opportunity Neighborhoods is a partnership between Fairfax County, Fairfax County Public Schools, and the community. Its mission is to nurture children from cradle to college to career, said Karla Bruce, Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services Division Director for Regions 1 and 4.
The initiative began a few years ago when Fairfax County and FCPS applied for the Promise Neighborhoods grant. Although they were not awarded the grant, it helped start a dialogue about helping youth reach their full potential.
“The good news is it placed us in a conversation with one another about success and acknowledging the commitment to positive success in youth,” Bruce said.
Fairfax County and FCPS secured a grant from CapitalOne in 2010, and in December of that year, the group began planning ways to reach out to the community. A portion of the 22309 ZIP code was selected as the initiative’s focus. This section of Mount Vernon includes Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School, Woodlawn Elementary School, Riverside Elementary School, Whitman Middle School, and Mount Vernon High School. The schools and their neighborhoods were selected based on a number of factors, including SOL scores and percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch.
A strong network exists in those neighborhoods, which Bruce says is a “strong framework for bringing people together.”
“Our real strength is when we pull together and acknowledge that good work happening and that there’s interest,” she said.
Opportunity Neighborhoods has four main pillars, which include:
- Opportunity Neighborhoods children are prepared for school entry with a solid early start
- Opportunity Neighborhoods children succeed in school
- Opportunity Neighborhoods children graduate from High School and continue to post-secondary careers
- Opportunity Neighborhoods families, schools, and neighbors support positive, healthy development in children.
Opportunity Neighborhoods is steered by a governance board including equal representation from FCPS, Fairfax County, and the community. Those involved include Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, school board representatives Dan Storck and Tammy Kaufax, and Woodlawn Elementary School principal Dawn Hendrick. The board’s resident co-chairs are Kobby Annor-Ampofo and Beatrice Asuda, a senior at MVHS.
“Their energy and perspective really is the glue that moves the effort together,” Bruce said.
Opportunity Neighborhoods has also begun a partnership with UCM in order to help spread the message about the initiative.
“UCM identifies the community’s needs and desires and refers individuals to programs based on their needs and desires,” UCM Director of Community Programs Herb Lea told Patch.
Two community engagement leaders have been focusing on local outreach efforts. Evin McFadden started working at UCM a few short weeks ago, and he has been devoting a great deal of time to the initiative along with Blanca Vasquez. He spends his days out and about hands out flyers to different services in the community and learning about different needs.
“I spend a quarter of the time in the field, and the rest of the time collecting data to help decide the direction of the program,” McFadden said.
He was also highly involved with the Opportunity Neighborhoods neighborhood retreat at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School on Dec. 1. He helped introduce the idea of Opportunity Neighborhoods to the community and fostered discussions among community members and Opportunity Neighborhoods volunteers.
The diversity of the Mount Vernon community is an asset to the new initiative.
“Being new to the area, I see a very diverse community, so I want to capitalize on that diversity,” McFadden said.
Opportunity Neighborhoods will host its next event sometime in February.