01/02/13 — Communities in Schools hopes to increase physical, fiscal support

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Communities in Schools hopes to increase physical, fiscal support

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 2, 2013 1:46 PM

Since taking over the reins of Communities in Schools in October 2011, Executive Director Selena Bennett has embarked on some lofty projects -- gearing up for the non-profit's accreditation status in the spring and applying for $150,000 in funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation.

"We did not get the Golden LEAF (money)," she said. "However, in talking with the Golden LEAF people, there are some other grant opportunities that they would like to talk about.

"I never expected to be one of the six finalists. But we got our name out there."

Her aim now is to expand the program, particularly through increased donor support -- financially as well as physically.

"Our goals are to encourage funding sources to partner with us, provide programs for kids and to achieve accreditation," she said. "Another important piece is mentors for kids."

Communities in Schools is designed to go into the schools, she explained, and provide day-to-day resources.

It has become known for two of its more pronounced programs, Teen Court and the graduation coaches. Teen Court is funded through Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, and the coach concept has elicited both local and federal support.

Rather than simply waiting for money to become available, though, Mrs. Bennett said she is always on the lookout for possible sources.

"We operate off of grant money and just the financial support of the community," she said. "Our unrestricted funds go toward school supplies, programs for kids. For instance, if they're going on a field trip and there's a child that just can't afford to go, we're able to dip into a pot and provide it."

Efforts this year such as "Stuff the Bus" in the fall and the Walmart Build a Backpack campaign netted $14,000 in supplies and cash donations.

"The only way that we can help and support the schools is if we have that money and that funding coming in in an unrestricted way," she said. "Every agency across the state is going through some of the same issues. Funding has been cut at all levels. It's difficult even for agencies that are much bigger than ours. Across the state, if we talk about our challenges, we all have the same challenges."

Wayne County was more fortunate than some, she noted, thanks in part to the Wayne County ABC Board, which provided $100,000 this year toward expanding the graduation coach effort.

The money typically would have gone to Wayne County Public Schools into the general fund, Mrs. Bennett said, but schools superintendent, Dr. Steven Taylor, made a pitch that the county earmark it for staff positions targeting students at risk of not reaching graduation.

Four were added at the middle school level, assigned to schools in the southern end of the county and renamed "success coaches." Two more are slated to share duties at Southern Wayne High School beginning next month.

Reflecting on the past year, Mrs. Bennett said it's been a time of relationship-building. As the new year approaches, she has ideas for several partnerships and fundraising efforts.

A greeting card sale is planned, featuring student artwork, with products to be sold in area businesses. Another major project will involve Wayne County Bar Association.

"The program is called TAPS, Teens and Attorneys Partnering for Success," Mrs. Bennett said. "Tonya Barber, president of the Wayne County Bar Association, and (attorney) Shelby Benton have organized a group of attorneys to work with every high school in the county. ... They'll form a team of kids at each high school that will learn about the criminal justice system and we'll do some mock trials as competition in April."

In addition to school supply drives, CIS has also received and distributed books, both to the Empty Stocking Fund as well as area elementary schools.

Another goal is getting the word out about the non-profit, with proposed options including a quarterly newsletter and the revamped website, www.waynecommunitiesinschools.org, which will include a PayPal option for online donations.

"Nothing that Communities in Schools does is going to be successful without the support of the community," she said.