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Youth-focused nonprofits prepare for challenges in new year

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Kids jump rope at Jack Minges Boys & Girls Club on Jan. 12, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, January 13, 2018

It’s a new year, and with that comes new goals for local youth-oriented nonprofits around the Pitt County. 

A busy 2017, filled with mergers, county-wide initiatives and far-reaching fundraising has given way to 2018, which organization officials hope will prove to be another step forward in the fight to serve children in need. 

United Way, for example, helped support the Early Literacy Coalition of Eastern North Carolina’s adoption of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which aims to equip every child younger than the age of five with a free book per month.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Coastal Plains saw an extensive merger, bringing its total footprint up to seven counties statewide and the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children grew its annual Touch-A-Truck event and KidsFest. 

Officials from all three organizations said they reached their 2017 goals thanks in large part to community support, but now are looking to the challenges of the new year that must be overcome to further effect the lives of local youth.

Boys & Girls Clubs

At the Boys & Girls Clubs, support came in the form of reaching its $2.4 million goal last year for public contributions, thanks to more than 140 volunteers. Officials said fundraising came down to the wire, as it does every year, but the benchmark ultimately was reached. The club also added a “Super Donors” level for people and businesses that give at least $25,000 annually. 

But the increased funding effort was supported, in large part, by the merger with the Coastal Carolina branch. With about 150 board members, interim President Kirk Dominick had to do his best to oversee a successful consolidation. 

“It was a year of change for us,” he said. “We went through a merger with Coastal Carolina so that brought two counties and five clubs to our service area. That was a big change, an exciting change. We think that positions us well for the future.”

Dominick also said the clubs shifted toward becoming more academically focused. The organization hopes to institute tangible measurements such as one-time grade progressions, reading levels, school attendance and more to gauge its academic programming. 

“We added some things, including a staff position that will allow us to get better at measuring in a tangible way whether or not we are making a difference in these kids’ lives in academics, lifestyle, character and citizenship,” Dominick said. 

While the merger meant big changes for the Boys & Girls Clubs, Dominick’s imminent naming of a new president will mean a change at the top of the leadership ladder.

A new president should be announced by mid-February as Dominick is honing in on finalists. Greenville, he said, is a desirable location and the job is attractive as well. When the announcement eventually is made, the new CEO should find stability, according to Dominick.

“It will be important for that person to understand and acclimate themselves to history and culture of this location while also bringing their own ideas,” he said. One of the greatest assets that the new CEO will find in this organization is the existing leaders.”

No matter who fills the position, fundraising, as is the case with most nonprofits, will be a key concern. Theresa Gilmore, chief development officer, said the club is hoping to raise $2.5 million in public donations in 2018. The upcoming campaign will kick off on Feb. 9 and run until the end of June. 

In Pitt County specifically, she anticipates that $1 million will be raised. The expectation is that the seven counties raise enough funds to stand on their own, so an increased allotment earned by the county’s branches could be significant.

“That’s where a bulk of our donors are,” she said. “I would imagine that’s because we were once the Boys & Girls Clubs of Pitt County.”

Dominick expects the money to go towards developing the full-time staff. He wants to build professional skill sets, some of which will be bestowed internally while others will come from the national organization and even outside agencies. The goal, he said, is to best utilize the money. 

“We’ve always done training but we’re putting more resources behind that, recognizing that to serve more kids and have a bigger impact, we have to invest in the people and the places and the programs,” he said.

United Way

For United Way, it was a shift in philosophy that best defined 2017. The nonprofit is eyeing early childhood development as a means to greater results. 

Between the partnership with the Early Childhood Literacy Coalition and a $490,000 federal grant issued in December to support the Early Grades Program of the Student Success Academy, United Way Executive Director Jim Cieslar said much of last year was used in anticipation of 2018.

“We’ve set the stage for this year and it’s really exciting,” he said. “We’re still working out the final details but we’ve basically solved the funding for the Imagination Library and we’ve got great acceptance from the community and we’re going to make a really big push and invest people, time and so forth in increasing even more enrollment.”

Though the Imagination Library’s funds will be disseminated by the Martin-Pitt Partnership this year, United Way raised $120,000 for the project, Cieslar said. With about 4,500 children in Pitt County enrolled, about 41 percent of all county children younger than 5 years old, Cieslar is hopeful that the Imagination Library can eventually enroll every child in the county.

The new Student Success Academy program also is focused on early learners. Slated to start with a summer program in July, 100 rising first grade students from Creekside, Falkland, Northwest and Wahl-Coates elementary schools will be the beneficary of the reading-focused intaitive. 

Additionally, 150 students from the schools will take part in the program during the school year. 

“In general we are moving down the age level,” Cieslar said. “The earlier, the better the results. You get greater return when you invest in (earlier ages). So we’re saying, ‘OK, with our limited dollars, let’s focus more and more on early childhood and really, early childhood is evolving.”

But it is not all about early learners. Cieslar said the most exciting part of last year was the 86.2 percent graduation rate at Pitt County Schools. Still, while funding has been tough, according to Cieslar — he expects to meet the goal for the campaign, which ends in March — there is more return to be had by putting resources on the front-end of the childhood spectrum. 

“For 2018, I see us building on the momentum that we’ve created this year in terms of investing in our community’s youth and in particular, investing in our community’s early childhood,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to get results.”

Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children

Like the Boys & Girls Clubs soon will be, the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children is in the midst of a change from the top. New director Jessica Burnham started on Jan. 1 and she will be tasked with overseeing the dissemination of the Imagination Library’s funds. 

That will happen at the start of the fiscal year, according to Community Outreach Director Amanda Parmalee, and fits directly with the program’s core mission. Though specific goals are still being crafted by Burnham, the main objective remains the same. 

“No matter what week, month, or year, our biggest goal remains the same,” Parmalee said, “to ensure that every child in Martin and Pitt counties has the opportunity to experience a quality early childhood education.”

The key, Parmalee said, is going to be raising awareness. She estimated that for every kid that drops out of school, the community loses roughly $265,000. 2017 events like Touch-A-Truck and KidsFest helped bring recognition to the mission, Parmalee said, which ultimately defined the year’s success. 

Now the group also will have the Imagination Library to help lead. 

“That’s what we’re trying to do this year, get people investing in early literacy, investing in childhood education,” Parmalee said.

Martin-Pitt Partnership has indentified single parents and grandparents raising children as families to target in the new year in terms of providing much-needed resources.

Additionally, the organization has hired a bilingual intern who will spend 25 hours a week solely focused on reaching out to Spanish-speaking families. 

“We’re trying to focus on and reach out to those groups that maybe we aren’t touching as much as we should be and maybe show them that it takes a village, and that’s what we’re here for,” Parmalee said. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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