Community partner, Durham Children’s Initiative, supports underserved families from “cradle to college or employment.” The program first assisted Tiffaney White’s younger children, but ultimately it helped her entire family reach their goals.
By Tiffany Lacy, NC Central University Communications Intern
Pregnant at the time and raising three young children, Tiffaney White was enjoying every moment of parenting, but something was missing. Ms. White, a 34-year-old mother of four and resident of Durham, wanted to do more to plan for her children and herself. Obtaining health, education, and prosperity was her focus in life. But finding a sure way to get there was a challenge.
While attending a housing program event, Ms. White recalled being introduced to the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI), an early childhood program. EDCI was in the process of merging with Partners for Youth Opportunity, a youth development program, and expanding its geographic reach. Now called Durham Children’s Initiative (DCI), it offered services from early childhood through college and career readiness. Through the merger and expansion, Ms. White and her children were now qualified for the program. That day was the beginning of her success story. “It just so happened I was pregnant at the time and was working a booth for Habitat for Humanity in 2016. The event for DCI was in East Durham, but the program was not available in my zip code (at the time), they only assisted residents who lived in East Durham…Once DCI stepped in, I began to have hope again,” said Ms. White.
Cradle to College
Durham Children’s Initiative, founded by president and CEO David Reese, supports underserved families from “cradle to college or employment.” According to the State of Durham County’s Young Children report, more than 26 percent of Durham’s young children live in a home where the head of household’s income is at or below the poverty level. DCI is walking alongside Durham County children to bridge the equity gap in 53 Durham County schools.
Today, 900 Durham children and youth are actively engaged in DCI. With the help of their ecosystem of partners, DCI supports their clients academically, mentally, and socially.
“The premise of our work is to bring together high-quality interventions and align them one behind the other so that young people can move along a continuum in the program, and wrap around academics and social support,” said Reese.
The program asks how it can open hearts and minds to change a child’s trajectory. For Ms. White, the program started with childcare and turned into something bigger.
“Childcare was the first and foremost important resource they helped me with, and I knew that I would need care for my youngest child. I was planning on going back to school after the birth of my son.”
The second thing DCI offered was the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program on Saturdays for her son Shane. Again, extra resources like diapers for her baby Shamon, now three, were available. Ms. White exclaimed, “I was ‘wow’, this is just so helpful.”
Josephe Featherstone, vice president of DCI, explains how the program partnerships evolved. “Currently there are 10 advocates that work through DCI but are Durham Public Schools (DPS) employees, so they have access to the schools. When we began to really dig deep and have deeper connections with our families, we understood their needs.”
Ms. White is currently an instructional assistant at Pearsontown Elementary and has first-hand knowledge of children’s challenges. During the pandemic, DCI worked to ensure every family had access to a Chromebook computer and a wifi hot spot to access the internet and remote learning.
Working in Partnership
Today, Ms. White says she feels empowered. She is an Alumna of North Carolina Central University and is part of a Durham Public Schools cohort of instructional assistants wishing to become certified teachers. In addition, Ms. White’s 11-year-old son Shane and her 16-year-old daughter Shayla participate in DCI programming. Shayla has a 4.35 GPA, attends City of Medicine High School, and dreams of becoming a pediatric neuroscience surgeon.
DCI continues to serve families from cradle to college or career and has helped develop Durham’s Early Childhood Action Plan (ECAP) to guide and measure Durham’s needs and success in supporting children. The White family shows that DCI works by bringing families and community members together to align the early childhood system for a better future.
“With all the tests and trials in my life, I’m confident and excited about the future for my family and me. Today I received notice that I have passed my courses and now I will be a full time first grade teacher at Eastway Elementary school.”
Aside from DCI’s support, Ms. White has found that repeating her mantra, a scripture, releases positive energy to wipe out the negativity in her life. This has allowed her to move forward to help her give back and be of service to other children. “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. ” Proverbs 31:25.