D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) launched 10 centers in October to connect families in Ward 7 and Ward 8 with government and community resources, as part of an initiative to narrow health, education and employment disparities in the city.
The ten “family success” centers are part of a $4.75 million initiative created by Bowser in 2019, and will exist as dedicated rooms in churches, libraries, and schools and as entire units in mixed-use buildings. They will serve as a place for families to connect with a myriad of programs the government offers, such as food and employment services.
“These centers represent the District’s commitment to making each neighborhood a place where families can thrive and where everyone in our great city gets a fair shot at success,” said Kim Ford, the president of Martha’s Table, during an Oct. 7 launch event. Martha’s Table is one of eight grantees that will run the centers.
The areas where the centers are located were selected based on violence prevention priority areas, reports on child abuse and neglect and social determinants of health data. The D.C. Child Family Services Agency is spearheading the initiative. Nearly 75% of the families the agency serves live in Ward 7 and Ward 8.
The centers were always supposed to open in October, but leaders had no way of knowing they’d have to launch during a global pandemic. More than 600 people in the District have died from COVID-19, and Ward 7 and Ward 8 have been among the hardest-hit areas of the city. More than 75% of COVID-19 deaths in the city have been Black residents.
But Smart from the Start, which operates the Woodland Family Success Center, felt well-equipped to follow through on its launch.
“We’ve been kind of in the trenches with our families since pandemic first hit,” said Cherie Craft, the director of Smart from the Start. During the pandemic, the organization has delivered groceries to families, provided tele tutoring, helped people with rent and bill pay and provided other services on Zoom such as counseling, Craft said.
“We were already well versed in safety protocols and what the directives from the Department of Health were,” Craft said.
The Woodland Family Success Center opted for a virtual launch event and a socially distanced celebration to follow a few days later.
Both events were well-attended. The outdoor event, called a “Party n Parade,” was located outside in a parking lot. Thirty tables were spaced 10 feet apart, and just two families were allowed to be at a table at one time.
Families had the opportunity to do arts and craft and trivia activities, sign up for programs and take home brand-new books, water bottles and T-shirts. And health groups provided health screenings.
The group decided to include an in-person event because the community had been waiting with “bated breath” for the center to launch, Craft said.
“Given the fact that the community was so invested and so excited about the launch of the center, we figured that we would have to provide some access to the center and some opportunity for folks to celebrate this new set of programs and services to the community,” Craft said.
Community members helped put together the program plan and even helped interview and hire staff for the center. Craft said the community breathed life into the project and gave the center authenticity.
The goal of the centers is not only to help people with their current needs but also with their future needs, Mayor Bowser said during the launch event.
“We’re going to help people deal with their needs for right now but everybody has an aspiration and a hope and a goal, and that’s what we also want to focus on,” Bowser said.