Since we have launched our revamped website last month, I have been compelled to consider what Village of Promise is doing in authentic and fresh ways. Who are we? Furthermore, what we do and why?
Village of Promise is inspired by the work of Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. However, this is Huntsville, Alabama not Harlem, New York. Huntsville’s poverty is unique to Huntsville and is OUR community’s poverty-not someone else’s messy dilemma. To that, all poverty is local. Huntsville’s poverty lives and walks side by side with affluence, its consumers pricks at our conscience (well, hopefully) and it is certainly not part of our rah-rah “We are rocket scientists” city pride.
We are sounding the alarm that far too many of our children in distressed low income neighborhoods are not doing well in school. In fact, an unacceptable number of kids are testing staggeringly below grade level. They are living in conditions that do not help them learn. They often do not have transportation, resources for learning or access to health care. Those conditions in turn leads to more poverty, more homelessness, more crime, less employment and more despair.
We have many Village of Promise parents working 2 jobs to just provide the basics. Our parents desperately want a better life for their children. Our parents at University Place Elementary beam with pride at their children’s academic accomplishments and we see their hunger to escape the grip of poverty.
Like many Southern cities, there is a rich architectural heritage in the downtown homes and buildings, many built prior to the Civil War. But, travel just a mile down Clinton Avenue from downtown’s Big Spring Park and you will discover several homeless camps. Good solid people from First Stop, Village Outreach and First Presbyterian Church work the camps and minister to those living in the squalid conditions. Lincoln Village Ministries are in the poverty trenches everyday in the Lincoln Village neighborhood. Travel a few more miles and you see the sprawling fenced in campus of the Downtown Rescue Mission. They are doing tireless, daily work on behalf of the homeless and poor in Huntsville. Poverty exists in this city and it can be hard to look at.
But, what if we could take a generation of children in Huntsville and give them a better education starting as early as infancy and even prenatally? What if we could follow those children and their families with every service, educational opportunity, community support and medical care? Would we see less poverty in Huntsville? Canada says “yes” and his results bear that out.
We are casting a net around University Place Elementary School and Westlawn Middle School because they sit in one of the poorest, most underserved neighborhoods in this city. Even though Village of Promise is in its first year on this great journey we are already seeing intangible results that cannot be measured. But these results can be measured with the heart. Our children are experiencing improved reading scores, more self control and more anger management. We have been wide eyed to see an enthusiasm to learn, increased vocabulary mastery and writing skills in the Village of Promise children. We celebrate each and every moment with these children and their families. Our kids have already told us they are doing things they have never done before- like play four square, visit Green Pea Press and attend our summer camps at Burritt Museum and Huntsville High School. There has been a trip to Cathedral Caverns and the fun of inventing things. Furthermore, Summer of Innovation Camp is yet to come!
Who are we? We are a retinue of volunteers, staff members, educators, board members and investors that are committed to the highest ideals of giving a child in our target neighborhood the best chance at an excellent education. These people are committed to Huntsville and its poor because they cannot look away from poverty and its by products.
A successful education plan could be defined by how well our children are prepared to become productive citizens. We are not just talking test scores-we are committed to the ideals of honesty, integrity, service to others, fidelity, spirituality, compassion and industriousness. We believe in our kids and their ability to succeed academically. We achieve those standards by every possible best practices that will yield positive results. The end game for us is that these children will go on to college, and that they will someday return to Huntsville and continue to be productive citizens. Better yet, it is our dream that they will come back to their neighborhood and be part of a transformation of their homes, streets, blocks and city.
By developing these children academically we are breaking the cycle of generational poverty, prison, joblessness and homelessness in Huntsville, Alabama in 2012 and beyond. That is what we do and who we are.
But why do this work? In 4 words: because someone has to.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said,”In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. ” Village of Promise refuses to be silent about poverty and its relatives. We promise to be a friend and supporter to the teachers, administrators and staff at University Place Elementary School and West Lawn Middle School, but most of all to the children.
Take the time to browse our website and Facebook page to find our more about Village of Promise.