A Colorado State University program to address at-risk children, teens and families in several north Fort Collins communities recently was awarded $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many residents of these communities are affected by staggering statistics for crime, unemployment, poverty, gang violence, and child abuse and neglect.
The three-year grant was awarded to the Community Organizing to Reach Empowerment, or CORE Center, at Colorado State in the College of Applied Human Sciences. The targeted areas include such neighborhoods as Coachlight Plaza, Hickory Village and Cherry Street.
The project brings together and trains community members to partner with high-need communities in north Fort Collins that are included within the area declared blighted by the Fort Collins Urban Renewal Authority in 2004. The neighborhoods were identified by the renewal authority as having pervasive issues that "constitute economic and social liability and are a menace to public health, safety and the welfare of the community."
Under the grant, university experts at CORE and collaborators will work together to develop strategies to help children and teens lead healthy, safe and successful lives and train other community agencies and volunteers to assist in that goal.
"Every community has assets, and it is important to every community that residents are involved in finding solutions to the challenges they face," said Marilyn Thayer, CORE director. "The goal of this project is to provide individuals in these neighborhoods with skills to reach financial independence and develop a commitment to a long-term change in these neighborhoods."
To meet the needs and interests of the residents, the group will implement programs such as after-school tutoring, adult education opportunities such as GED and English as a second language classes, parent support groups or employment training classes.
The programs will be designed to meet the needs of all ages and cultures within the communities.
"Part of the process of community engagement involves working with community members to identify youth and individuals who are leaders in their neighborhoods," said Thayer. "We’ll work to build relationships in each neighborhood. The goal is to help residents become actively engaged in not only identifying issues but also finding solutions to the problems. Members will be involved on every level – identifying needs and assets, program development, program promotion and recruitment of participants, leading the programs and so on."
The programs will be carried out by volunteers within the neighborhoods and larger Fort Collins community including Colorado State University students. Coordinators will work with volunteers from within the target neighborhoods to build enough commitment to eventually run and staff their own programs.
Local law enforcement data indicates increasing juvenile crime and violence in these neighborhoods, and the safety of residents is a concern. From 1995 to 2002, reported child abuse and neglect increased 140 percent, and the county department of Human Services and Child Protection identified the four targeted neighborhoods as the areas where the most cases were investigated.
The neighborhoods generally have high poverty and crime rates. One neighborhood, for example, has a 100 percent poverty rate. Fewer than half of its residents graduated from high school, and 85 percent of its residents are unemployed. Another neighborhood has a higher working-resident rate, with 13 percent unemployment, but also has the highest crime rate in the county and a 63 percent poverty rate.
With the project funding, CORE will serve as the lead organization of Fort Collins Communities Empowering Youth Collaborative.
University groups partnering with CORE on the project include the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension 4-H in Larimer County. Community organizations include the Healthier Communities Coalition, Assets-Based Community Development Institute and the Vineyard Church of Fort Collins.