Photo by Mel Ponder, courtesy of White Center Community Development Association
A 2011 White Center Promise Summer Celebration photo of White Center residents and Community Development Association staff. The Promise initiative will be implemented in 2013 with the goal of making families more financially stable and making college degrees the norm for school-going children in White Center.

White Center Promise initiative plans to lift up the poor through education and support

Folks may have heard the term “White Center Promise” swirling around North Highline as of late, including White Center Promise Summer Celebration coming up on Aug. 31, but there is a lot more behind that promise than just a name.

As Promise Neighborhood Project Director Laurie Bohm (working for Southwest Youth and Family Services and the White Center Community Development Association) explains, “Overall, the goal is really that there is social change in White Center and that we can stem the tide of poverty here and lift up the existing population to a higher socio-economic tier.”

How is that done?

“The goal is to ensure that every student in White Center graduates from high school, goes on to get a post-secondary credential, and obtains a living wage job,” Bohm explained, “and to support students and families in achieving that goal.”

The initiative is expansive in scope, taking a “cradle to college and career” pipeline approach to helping White Center children and their families forge a path towards financial stability. The White Center CDA is heading up implementation over the course of five years, starting in January of 2013, in a collaborative process that includes many partners from community members and groups to school districts and other government entities. It includes working with students and their families, both inside the walls of Highline school buildings and at home.

“There are two different kinds of poverty here,” Bohm said. “We have our immigrants and refugees that are coming form other countries and there are a lot of challenges for them in terms of being able to attain employment and services and understanding our educational system … and then there is also generational poverty which often times is refugees or immigrants … as well as others that are underemployed, that don’t have the fiscal resources or, in some cases, the financial literacy to make it … and honestly (some) do not have the education themselves to be able to support their children in doing well in the educational system.”

The five years of implementation will be grant-funded, according to Bohm, and all fingers are crossed for the possibility of a $20 million Federal Promise Neighborhood Implementation grant. She said they will hear one way or the other at the end of December. If it doesn’t go through, she said the program will be implemented in smaller steps (still within the five year timeline).

Bohm said the Promise initiative will be data-driven, “so we know what’s working and what’s not working,” using software provided at a low rate from the Promise Institute, a national body that helps communities implement promise initiatives.

If North Highline is annexed to Burien, Bohm said, “The plan does continue. We are hoping that if annexation goes through that we could be working with Burien on this” and the idea of replicating and expanding the program to help low-income Burien families would be a “natural move.”

Bohm believes the Promise initiative, while incredibly expansive, has great chance to succeed in White Center because of a long-standing tradition of collaboration and connections already in place.

“We really hope that the community has more opportunities, that the community has a pathway, that we create a culture of college-going here in White Center that is easy and accessible and it’s just a given that everyone can and will go to college,” she said, “and, over time, that we see the families that are here now becoming more stable and that White Center truly becomes the vibrant, innovative place that it is, but even more so.”

For far greater detail on the White Center Promise plan, visit the website at http://whitecenterpromise.org/.

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