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Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

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Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Eddie Adams rehearses on a cello at George Mason University.

This summer I have been reading installments about the early life of someone I thought I knew well when she was a child. I thought I knew how difficult life was for her and her younger brother after her parents divorced. Wrong. Without getting into details, I’ll just say I didn’t have the slightest idea. Reading her story, I feel like crying. I feel like going back in time and trying to fix things.

Fortunately, I know this girl as an adult and can see that somehow she was saved, with the violin playing an important role in saving her. I’m telling you this because I want to share a story about a boy who was saved by a cello.

Allison Klein reported the cello story in April at the Washington Post.

“Eddie Adams didn’t have the money to buy college textbooks this semester, so he had to rely on his classmates at George Mason University to loan him theirs. He is the principal cellist in the school orchestra, but he couldn’t afford to buy or even rent a cello. That, too, he had to borrow.

“That was two weeks ago.

“After a story ran in The Washington Post about Adams’s tormented, impoverished childhood and how the cello has become his lifeline, people started donating money — more than Adams ever imagined was possible.

“The day the story ran, April 13, Adams looked at a GoFundMe page that had been set up for him and saw it had reached $25,000. It was so much money, he was sure there was a technical problem with the fundraising site.

“ ‘I legitimately thought it was a glitch in the system,’ said Adams, 20, who as a child moved around Northern Virginia with his mother and five siblings about seven times, including to a homeless shelter in Alexandria.

“The next day when the fundraiser reached $70,000 — and hundreds of people had left comments telling him he was worth every penny — he texted his strings professor and mentor, June Huang: ‘I’ve been crying all day … happy tears.’ …

“As of late Wednesday evening, the GoFundMe donations had reached $141,120.

“ ‘I still don’t want to believe it happened because it’s too much money for me to even think about,’ said Adams, who is estranged from his family and whose only home is his dorm room.

“On top of that, people donated other large and personal gifts. Two people are buying him cellos, one valued at up to $20,000 and another that will be specially made for him, valued at more than $30,000. A couple in Delaware bought him a $700 custom-fitted tuxedo he will wear during performances. Gift cards and checks started arriving at the university, totaling close to $5,000.

“The City of Alexandria invited him to play at a homeless shelter, Huang said. He plans to do it. …

“Adams’s first move was to pay a $250 deposit for an educational music festival he will be attending this summer. Then he went to the dentist for the first time since he was a child. And he paid off $15,000 in student loans that were accruing interest and had been weighing heavily on him.

“ ‘That was a very big moment for me,’ he said. …

“Huang, whose support of Adams was described in the Post story, said she has been deluged by calls and emails from people who want to help Adams.

Huang first heard Adams play at an audition for the school’s orchestra. She dropped her pencil, forgetting to score his performance because she found it so soulful and beautiful. …

“It was Huang’s private violin student Noah Pan Stier who at age 12 set up the GoFundMe page last year after Huang told him about Adams’s difficult childhood. Noah recently turned 13 and had a bar mitzvah, asking for donations for Adams instead of gifts. By early April, Noah had reached his goal of raising $10,000. That is the same GoFundMe that is now at more than $141,000. …

“Now, Huang is the point person coordinating Adams’s donations and talking with people around the country and in places such as Germany, England and Singapore who contacted her in recent days wanting to help. She has been getting pro bono guidance from various estate planners, tax lawyers and accountants to figure out how to keep the money safe for Adams and make it last. She said she’s been in nonstop motion the past 10 days, but she’s thrilled with all the support. …

“Huang said she includes one of Adams’s close friends, Adam Rothenberg, and his former middle school teacher, Gerald Fowkes, in financial discussions she has with Adams for transparency’s sake. She keeps all his financial information in a binder the four of them can look at. And she’s trying to teach Adams how to manage his newfound money at the same time she’s trying to figure it out herself. …

“Adams said he is now getting a lot of attention on campus, as people approach him and say they had no idea that his past was so difficult, that he faces so many challenges. He’s shy so the attention is not always easy for him.

“ ‘I have anxiety about these types of things, but I should get used it because it’s all really good,’ he said. ‘I’m trying not to think about it because finals are coming up and I’m trying not to let that take up all my head space. I still need to study and practice as much as I was before. I need to focus on my schoolwork because that’s the whole purpose of it all.’ ”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: John Waire/Washington Post
Richard Antoine White behind the scenes during the filming of “R.A.W,” a documentary about his life and musical career.

What is it about tuba players and altruism? Maybe I should say, What is it about Baltimore tuba players?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a Baltimore tuba player’s inspiring outreach to young impoverished musicians (here), and now I have a related story about a tuba player who grew up poor in Baltimore and now mentors kids.

Tim Smith writes at the Baltimore Sun, “Richard Antoine White looks back on his life — poverty and an unsettled family life growing up in [the Sandtown section of Baltimore]; tuba studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute and Indiana University; his current jobs with the New Mexico Philharmonic and University of New Mexico — and sums it up simply: ‘The American Dream is still alive and well.’ …

“White’s successful pursuit of that dream has been chronicled in the documentary ‘R.A.W.’ (White’s initials) by Baltimore filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson, co-founders of Early Light Media. …

“ ‘I feel honored and humbled that they wanted to do a film about me,’ says White, 45. ‘There was an awe factor when they showed up in Albuquerque. I thought, you guys are really going to follow me around with a camera? But I trusted them to tell this story appropriately.’

“Storytelling is a specialty for Durlach and Larson. They formed their production company not only to make a living (clients for their video work include companies and foundations, local and beyond), but also to give themselves an outlet for spotlighting worthy individuals and causes. … The duo decided to direct that interest into Invisible Thread, a venture they envisioned as a series of ‘people-driven stories.’ …

“[Their first film] had a screening at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Durlach and Larson met the school’s director, Chris Ford.

“ ‘We were talking with him about an idea we had for a feature film about the arts, specifically arts education, in our culture,’ Durlach says, ‘how the arts are misunderstood, underfunded, and underutilized. And Chris said, “You know who you need to talk to is Richard White.” …

“ ‘The second we met Richard, we fell in love with him and were inspired by him,’ Durlach says. … For several days, the filmmakers shadowed White to chronicle his life in Albuquerque, where he is principal tuba in the New Mexico Philharmonic and associate professor of tuba/euphonium and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the University of New Mexico.

“The action then shifted to Baltimore, where more filming took place at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody. The filmmakers also accompanied White to places in Sandtown, where he spent difficult years as a child and had largely avoided revisiting.

“ ‘Family members would sometimes let my mom and I sleep on a couch,’ White says. ‘Sometimes I slept under a tree or in an abandoned house. My mom had problems with alcoholism and finally gave me up. Her foster parents took me in. …’

“After White’s life smoothed out with the help of his foster parents, he found himself drawn to music — first the trumpet, then the tuba, which he learned partly with the help of a self-teaching tape. That gave him the confidence to go to the Baltimore School for the Arts, ready to audition for admission. … White gained admission.

“ ‘That proved to be a good decision on our part,’ Ford says. ‘He was an incredible worker. Through sheer grit, he was pushing past everyone. And he was a delightful individual throughout. ….

“ ‘Richard moved from someone who needed a handout to someone who now puts his hand out to help others,’ Ford says. ‘He’s been really powerful mentoring some of our kids.’ ” More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Jorge de la Quintana
A ballerina admired impoverished acrobats performing at Lima, Peru, traffic lights and decided to offer them a better opportunity. In the photo, members of her D1 Dance Company rehearse.

Once upon a time, a privileged young lady, a ballerina with an international reputation, saw the face of aspirational poverty on acrobats performing in traffic and decided to offer them an opportunity.

Dan Collyns writes at the Guardian, “Vania Masías vividly remembers the first time she saw acrobats somersaulting at a traffic light on a visit to her home city in 2004. She was at the peak of an illustrious career as a ballet dancer in Europe – but before long, she would leave it all behind it to nurture the raw talent she found in the streets of the Peruvian capital. …

“She was so inspired by the abilities of the teenage acrobats she encountered in Lima she set up a pilot project to teach them to dance – not ballet, but hip-hop. …

“It began on the self-taught gymnasts’ home turf in Ventanilla, a tough neighbourhood near the city’s port. Masías arranged to meet them on the shanty’s sand dunes where they practised their flips. The response was overwhelming.

“ ‘I thought I was going to meet with three kids,’ she said. ‘When I arrived, there were more than a hundred kids.’ …

“In 2005 Masías formed the D1 Cultural Association: part dance school, part non-profit organisation seeking to create young leaders and promote positive social change through the arts.

“D1’s social arm, which is 85% self-sufficient thanks to the school’s private classes, works with 7,000 children and young people in the capital and has schools in the Peruvian cities of Ica and Trujillo. More than 100,000 children have passed through the programme over the years, says Masías.

“Among them is Eddy Revilla, who at 13 became his family’s breadwinner somersaulting at traffics lights in downtown Lima.

“ ‘I was earning 300 soles a week [£66/$92] and here in Peru – that’s money! I could help my family and they started to thank me,’ says Revilla, now 25.

“But after blacking out in mid-air doing a somersault, Revilla auditioned for D1, and is now a member of the group’s professional dance company.

“ ‘When we started nobody thought that you could make a living from dance. Now it’s an amazing opportunity for young people,’ says Revilla, who also teaches hip-hop to paying students at D1’s dance studio. …

“Masías acknowledges that only a few of the young students will eventually follow a career in dance, but she says that the act of dancing itself gives them the confidence to transform their circumstances. …

“Masías has encouraged her dancers to embrace their provincial roots through fusing traditional Peruvian and urban styles.

“ ‘It’s in their blood, in their veins,’ she says. Dancers who had been ashamed of their origins ‘now fight to say where they come from,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Nichole Sobecki for NPR
This Kenyan hamlet is participating in a cash-distribution experiment. The nonprofit GiveDirectly will give $22 a month for 12 years to people in 200 such villages and compare the results with 100 other Kenyan villages.

MIT-based Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) has been working on poverty alleviation for many years now. The nonprofit describes itself as “a network of 145 affiliated professors from 49 universities. Our mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.”

A long-term experiment providing Kenyans with a guaranteed income was recently described at National Public Radio. The story caught my attention because my former colleague Erin has been proposing a guaranteed-income approach for years.

NPR’s Nurith Aizenman explains.

“Young guys in dusty polo shirts. New moms holding their babies. Grandmas in bright head wraps. They’ve all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person’s cellphone starts tinkling.

“It’s a text alert from an American charity called GiveDirectly. Last fall, GiveDirectly announced that it will give every adult in this impoverished village in Kenya an extra $22 each month for the next 12 years — with no strings attached. The money is wired to bank accounts linked to each villager’s phone. The alert is the signal that the latest payment has posted. Everyone starts cheering. Some of the younger women break into song.

“The payouts are part of a grand and unprecedented experiment that is motivated by an equally sweeping question: What if our entire approach to helping the world’s poorest people is fundamentally flawed?

“Today practically all aid is given as ‘in-kind’ donations — whether that’s food, an asset like a cow, job training or schoolbooks. And this means that, in effect, it’s the providers of aid — governments, donor organizations, even private individuals donating to a charity — who decide what poor people need most. But what if you just gave poor people cash with no strings attached? Let them decide how best to use it?

“GiveDirectly has actually been advocating for this kind of cash aid for the past decade. Founded by four grad students in economics who wanted to challenge traditional aid, the charity has already given $65 million to people across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, provided by a mix of Silicon Valley foundations and ordinary citizens who contribute through GiveDirectly’s website. And

GiveDirectly has shown through rigorous, independent study that people don’t waste the money.

“Still, those cash grants were relatively modest one-time payouts. With this experiment, GiveDirectly wants to see what happens when you give extremely poor people a much longer runway — a guaranteed ‘basic income’ they can count on for years.

“Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly, says they’ve chosen to set the payment at $22 because in Kenya $22 per person per month is ‘the food poverty line — the amount of money it would take to afford a basic basket of food for yourself.’

“This hamlet near Lake Victoria — about 400 residents living on less than $2 a day in mud-brick huts with no running water — is just the beginning. [This] fall, GiveDirectly wants to extend the monthly payments to every adult in 200 similar villages across Kenya, then compare them to 100 ‘control’ villages that don’t get the cash. To do this they need $30 million, of which they’ve raised $25 million.

“Some of the world’s foremost researchers of anti-poverty strategies will be doing an independent study of the data that emerges — including Alan Krueger, professor of economics at Princeton University, and Abhijit Banerjee, a professor of economics at MIT and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. …

” ‘Let them make the choices,’ says [Michael Faye, the chairman of GiveDirectly]. ‘Because the poor are pretty good at making them.’ ”

At NPR, here, there’s a lot more detail, plus interviews with a couple recipients.

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Photo: Charleston County School/Facebook
South Carolina teacher Katie Blomquist said she wanted her students to grow up with happy biking memories like hers.

I woke up one morning and checked the headlines and saw four stories on horrible things and felt the weight of the world descending. But I also keep finding stories reminding me that, whatever happens, the human spirit of kindness survives.

Here is a recent example from South Carolina, where a teacher was so moved by the poverty of her students that she took an unusual action.

Eun Kyung Kim reported the story at TODAY.com.

“Students jumped with joy, hugged one another and squealed with delight as teachers at their South Carolina elementary school revealed hundreds of custom-made bicycles beneath parachutes normally used for P.E. class.

“The new set of wheels [came] courtesy of first-grade teacher Katie Blomquist.

“ ‘I made a really conscious effort to watch their faces and let it soak in and imprint in my brain when those tarps went up,’ she told TODAY. ‘It was that moment I’ve been waiting for seven months.’

“But the idea originated more than a year ago. Blomquist, 34, teaches at North Charleston’s Pepperhill Elementary School, where many of the students live in poverty. Last year, one of her students mentioned how much he wanted a bike for his birthday. His parents couldn’t afford to buy him one, and neither could she.

“ ‘I started thinking about all the other kids who might not have bikes. We take a lot for granted and we forget that there’s a large category of kids out there who don’t have bikes,’ she said. ‘That was such a large piece of my childhood memories, and I immediately thought, “oh, they’re not getting that!”‘ …

“In September, Blomquist started a ‘Every Kid Deserves a Bike!’ GoFundMe page and set a $65,000 goal, enough to buy bikes and helmets for the 650 students at Pepperhill. Within three months, she had raised more than $82,000. …

“ ‘This was an entire second job for me, when I got home from work until midnight every night,’ she said.

“Radio Flyer donated 100 big-wheel tricycles and training bikes for the pre-school students, while a local business, Affordabike, worked with Blomquist to customize the remaining 550 bicycles …

“Beyond the children’s reactions — and the hugs from parents as they picked up the bikes —Blomquist said she’s enjoyed the sense of community created by strangers around the nation who donated to the campaign. It was support she hadn’t anticipated. …

“ ‘But maybe one day when they’re adults, they’ll know that this gift, it wasn’t from me. It was from our community and our country,’ she said.”

More here.

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Photo: AP
Young ballerinas practice under the instruction of Kenyan ballet dancer Joel Kioko, 16, left, in a room at a school in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

The other day, someone clicked on all my ballet and dance posts without leaving a comment. I can tell from looking at my site stats.

I hope whoever it was is still checking as I have another great dance story today. It was reported by AP staff in Australia on December 26, 2016.

“Joel Kioko is arguably Kenya’s most promising young ballet dancer. Currently training in the United States, he has come home for Christmas — and is dancing a solo in a Nairobi production of The Nutcracker while he’s here. …

“Kioko grew up in Nairobi’s Kuwinda slum and took his first dance class five years ago in a public school classroom, with bare walls, no barre and no mirror, the desks and chairs pushed outside. …

“ ‘I don’t know what I could have done without ballet, without dancing,’ Kioko said. …

“He was discovered by a fellow dance student who at age 14 was teaching a class at his school and told her teacher, [Dance Centre Kenya’s artistic director, Cooper] Rust, about him.

“ ‘From the beginning, when he joined the ballet, there was nothing else he could talk about,’ said Kioko’s mother, Angela Kamene, who raised him and his sister in a one-bedroom shack shared with an aunt and a grandmother. …

“Now others are pursuing dance as a way out of poverty. … Michael Wamaya, a finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, teaches dance to around 100 kids a week in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums.

“At the end of the day, we’re not just training them to have dance for fun, we’re doing it in a serious level,” Wamaya said. …

“ ‘People say sometimes, why are you not teaching them, for instance, African dance or hip hop?’ he said. ‘Yes, it’s a Western thing coming in, but it’s dance, and dance is diverse, you know? To me, it’s not about ballet as a dance style, but it’s about the discipline that ballet has in itself as a dance technique.’

“As the only son in a family growing up without a father, Kioko laughed at the notion that some people might consider a man in tights, dancing classical ballet, to be unmanly. He was teased by some in his neighbourhood about the dancing, he said, but he never had to fight.

“ ‘Where I came from there is poverty, there is stealing, there is drugs,’ Kioko said. ‘You have to be a man to live in where we live. … It’s like a lion in the jungle, you have to show that you are the male there, you are the one who roars and everyone follows.’ ”

More here.

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An obvious barrier for single mothers who want a good education is lack of day care. Some high schools help low-income moms with that, but not many colleges. Kirk Carapezza writes at WGBH radio about one college that is leading the way.

“Twenty-three years ago, when Endicott College President Richard Wylie set out to subsidize room, board and childcare for single teenage mothers at this small, four-year private college in Beverly, Massachusetts, he met some resistance. …

“What Endicott decided to do was admit ten low-income single mothers each year, providing them with housing, meals, and childcare. Today, Endicott’s Keys to Degrees program costs the college about half a million dollars a year. It’s an expensive program for a school with a relatively small $65 million endowment, but Wylie says the school has a moral and professional obligation to help single parent students.

“ ‘We’re not here just to educate the brightest and the most privileged,’ Wylie said. ‘If I can send my football team out of the country to play, why can’t we do more?’

“College is usually an opportunity for students to get ahead and improve their lives. But that promise can lead to disappointment for low-income parents if they can’t find affordable, high-quality childcare. According to the Institute for the Women’s Policy Research, only 17 percent of college students with children graduate within six years. …

“A new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds more than 70 percent of parents say the cost of childcare is a serious problem. And experts say that cost can prevent students with children from graduating.

” ‘Childcare and taking care of your kids can be a major barrier in terms of completion,’ said Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. Adams says more schools focusing on serving student parents could positively affect the economy, since most jobs created after the recession require more than a high school degree.

“ ‘Education absolutely is a route out of poverty for low-income parents and for their kids,’ Adams said. ‘But if they have kids and we don’t provide them with the opportunities to make sure that their children are well cared for, then they are unlikely to enroll or be able to succeed.’ ”

More at WGBH radio, here.

Photo: Kirk Carapezza/WGBH
Sarah Schuyler, a junior at Endicott, and her son Asher play in their dorm room after class.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Ojibwe poet Jim Northrup

I have been trying to learn something about tribal cultures in the United States. I liked Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy (a charming picture book for young children) and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (an early, painful collection of short stories). Now I am reading some Native American poetry.

One poet, Jim Northrup, recently died. Here is a beautiful obit by Jana Hollingsworth in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Jim Northrup was a ‘tough man’ who taught his eldest sons to survive in the elements by living in a tepee on the Fond du Lac Reservation for several years, when money and jobs were scarce.

“But it was more than physical survival, said his son, Matthew, on Tuesday, the day after his father died from cancer-related complications. He taught them how to be strong in a world that didn’t treat everyone the same, he said, using humor — and education — as tools.

” ‘ “When you have really nothing else,” he said to me a lot, “you have your humor,” Matthew said. ” ‘When you grow up poor on the rez and when you grow up a lower class in society, you realize that.’

“Northrup, an award-winning writer of books, columns, plays and poetry — and a prominent member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — died [in July]. He was 73.

“Northrup was a storyteller, known for his stark and honest writing about his experience as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his early years at a federal boarding school. He was funny and pointed in his writings about everyday life on the reservation, politics and change in Indian Country. He wrote as a way to heal himself from some of the trauma he experienced during the war, he said earlier this year.

” ‘I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,’ he told the News Tribune in March. ‘It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).’ ”

More here, where you can hear Northrup read a poem in Ojibwe about passing along the culture. Read the whole obit. It’s really lovely. I hated to cut it.

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Laura Bliss at the Atlantic‘s City Lab has a story on young people you may have seen performing in a New York subway car. She reports that in the film We Live This, the teens’ hopes seem hemmed in by poverty.

“ ‘Showtime’ dancing is a hallmark of the New York City transit scene,” writes Bliss. “Hoping for donations, crews of young black and Latino men perform exuberant choreographies for subway passengers, twisting and leaping from pole to pole with artful ‘lite-feet‘ dancing in between—and never before shouting, ‘It’s showtime!’

“Who are these dancers scraping by on their earnings? A new, short cinéma vérité documentary, We Live This, shines a light on the world of one crew, whose four young members perform on the J train. They are talented, hardworking, committed, and full of dreams, the film shows. But for some, the obstacles are high, and the alternatives slim. …

“Forty, is homeless.

‘As I’m dancing on the train, I’m thinking about where am I sleeping at night,’ he says. ‘Who should I call? Who is going to pick up? What if they don’t answer?’

“Showtime is the best way he he knows to a better life, a way into a community, he says. …

“Of course, the subway is no simple launchpad to success. While some passengers love the dancing, many others avoid eye contact, and some even yell at crews to switch cars. …

“ ‘I hope people will watch this and look at these young men as human beings,’ the film’s director, James Burns, tells CityLab. ‘And see the last vestiges of a culture that may be dying out.’ ”

More.

WE LIVE THIS – OFFICIAL TRAILER from HAYDEN 5 on Vimeo.

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Dan Holin, who used to run a Concord-Lowell volunteer partnership called the Jericho Road Project, is now director of special projects at UTEC in Lowell. (UTEC doesn’t use the longer title its youth founders originally came up with, but since people ask, it was United Teen Equality Center.)

UTEC describes itself as a nonprofit that “helps young people from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. It works to remove barriers that confront them when they want to turn their lives around and offers young people paid work experience through its social enterprises: mattress recycling, food services and woodworking.”

On May 15, Acton’s Pedal Power joined members of the Concord-based Monsters in the Basement bicycling club to share their bike-repair expertise with young people who wanted to acquire bikes and learn to maintain them. Holin, a serious biker himself, organized the event to give UTEC young people two things that he said they normally lack: transportation and fun.

At the event, one of them, Sav, recounted his story of change. Before UTEC I never talked to anyone,” he said. “I was a problem child on the streets. I was hanging around with gangs, selling drugs. I don’t do that now. Seven months ago, I moved from a place with nothing positive. Atlantic City. I let my family know I’m ready to live life. It was hard for me to get into something good: I’ve got a lot of tattoos and a record. But I’m in the culinary program here. It’s a family. They make you feel like you are somebody that has a chance. They give me love like a family. They changed my life for the better. There are so many new things to do here. Yesterday I went kayaking.”

More here.

Sav, in sunglasses, got a good bike at UTEC’s bike event in Lowell on May 15. The bike will provide transportation to his job at UTEC. It will also provide some much needed fun.

051516-UTEC-bike-clinic.jpg

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Some initiatives that are costly up front have benefits that far outweigh those costs but don’t show up for years. Even then, people may disagree about what caused the outcomes.

One such initiative sends nurses to new mothers who are young, poor and often friendless to help ensure that their babies get a leg up in life.

At the Washington Post

“A high school senior learns that she’s pregnant — and she’s terrified. But a registered nurse comes to visit her in her home for about an hour each week during pregnancy, and every other week after birth, until the baby turns 2. The nurse advises her what to eat and not to smoke; looks around the house to advise her of any safety concerns; encourages her to read and talk to her baby; and counsels her on nutrition for herself and her baby.

“This kind of support, with trained nurses coaching low-income, first-time mothers, is among the most effective interventions ever studied. Researchers have accumulated decades of evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in social science research — following participants for up to 15 years. They have consistently found that nurse coaches reduce pregnancy complications, pre-term births, infant deaths, child abuse and injury, violent crimes and substance abuse. What’s more, nurse coaches improve language development, and over the long term, cognitive and educational outcomes.

“Nurse coaching is a vital tool that addresses both the liberal concern about income inequality and the conservative concern about inequality of opportunity. …

“Still, nurse coaching reaches only 2 to 3 percent of eligible families. Which raises the question: if it’s so successful — and people on both sides of the aisle support it — why can’t it be scaled to reach every eligible family?”

There are two stumbling blocks according to the reporters: First, funding must be cobbled together from numerous unpredictable sources; second, the costs are up front, whereas the benefits to government and society appear over time.

“If nurse coaching were fully scaled to reach every eligible family, the costs to state and federal governments would outweigh the savings for the first five years. But then the savings would start to outweigh the costs. Over 10 years, the net savings would be $2.4 billion for state governments and $816 million for the federal government.”

So the question becomes: do we have the patience? More here.

A similar initiative that Suzanne started supporting when she lived in San Francisco focuses on homeless mothers. Read about the great results of the Homeless Prenatal Program here.

Photo: iStock
When nurses coach low-income moms, their babies benefit.

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A certain community organization that believes in the importance of affordable housing also believes in the importance of community. That is why it fosters numerous community-building initiatives, including the new Sankofa farm and market.

Leigh Vincola at ecoRI reports from Providence.

“If you have traveled around the city’s West End this winter, you may have noticed a number of buildings going up rather quickly. Wondering what they are and who they belong to?

“The answer is Sankofa, a Ghanaian word meaning to go back, get what is yours and make positive progress in the future. The Sankofa Initiative of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC) is doing just this.

“The initiative was born in 2011, when the WEHDC completed an extensive survey of West End residents that determined their primary concerns centered around health and food. In a predominately low-income neighborhood — 32.5 percent of households live below the poverty level — the survey determined that for many the West End is a food-insecure neighborhood. There isn’t enough access to fresh food, and particularly food that is culturally relevant to the immigrant populations that make up the community, primarily Central American, West African and Southeast Asian. …

“Sankofa is a response to these needs, and has three main elements: an affordable housing development, a large-scale community garden and a weekly World Market. The $15 million project is funded by Rhode Island Housing and work is underway on all aspects.” Read up on the amazing range of positive efforts here.

According to the market’s Facebook page, things will get going for spring with a “pop-up market May 7th, from 12pm to 4pm at Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Ave. There will be art, bath and hair products, handmade jewelry, homemade candles, fresh food, FREE seeds, henna, giant bubbles and much more.”

Photo: Sankofa Initiative
The Sankofa World Market is a local farmers market with international flavor.

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Here’s an idea that could give a welcome boost to underprivileged children: a free connection to the Internet at their home.

It seems that Google, in the spirit of its discontinued motto “Don’t be evil,” is piloting a new public service.

Matt Hamblen at Computerworld reports, “Google Fiber [recently] announced free gigabit Internet service to residents of selected public housing projects connected to its fiber optic service in U.S. cities.

“The program was launched at West Bluff, an affordable housing community in Kansas City, Mo., where 100 homes have been connected to Google Fiber. Across the Kansas City area, Google is now working with affordable housing providers to connect as many as nine properties that could reach more than 1,300 local families.

“Google described the program as an extension of its work with ConnectHome, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Obama administration. …

“In addition to free Internet, eligible residents will work with ConnectHome partners like Connecting for Good and Surplus Exchange to be able to purchase discounted computers and learn new computer skills, Google said.” More here.

Depending on what the housing developments are like to live in and whether they provide supports like the Family Self-Sufficiency program to move people to independence, this could be a useful piece of the difficult poverty-reduction puzzle. So, good on Google!

Photo: ConnectHome 
A resident of West Bluff in Kansas City and her son are among the first of 1,300 families in area affordable housing units to receive Google Fiber gigabit Internet service at no cost.

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One of the better aspects of the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women was hearing speakers like Candy Chang, an artist who engages ordinary people in public discourse.

At the December conference, Chang focused on Neighborland, a service co-founded with Dan and Tee Parham, that helps “residents and organizations collaborate on the future of their communities.”

This is how it works. Organizations start by posing a question. For example, they might hand out cards that say, “I want [blank] in my neighborhood,” and a resident might write in, “a night market.” Next, using Neighborland tools, ideas are collected from workshops, public installations, SMS, and Twitter. They are then discussed and voted on. The website says Neighborland has “sophisticated moderation, clustering, and de-duplication tools for organizers to aggregate all of the data from residents. Our reports make it easy for organizers to see trends in the data, make decisions, allocate resources, and keep participants involved in the fun part – making their neighborhoods better places.”

In this example, National Gardening Association’s Jenna Antonio DiMare reports on Adam Guerrero,  his Memphis, Tennessee, team of blight-busting ″Smart Mules,″ and their efforts to create a greener and more sustainable city.

“During the month of October, National Gardening Association (NGA) partnered with Neighborland to challenge Memphis residents to propose innovative projects to make their city and neighborhoods more sustainable. With a $1,000 grant awarded to the most promising project, Neighborland’s simple platform empowered local Memphis residents to ‘connect and make good things happen.’

“Despite receiving many inspiring project proposals, from founding an urban agriculture school to growing a newly established community garden, it was clear to NGA that the ‘Smart Mules’ project would have the greatest impact with the $1,000 award. …

″ ‘We are fighting [urban] blight, raising neighborhood morale, engaging our local government, and investing in a future for the neighborhood, all at the same time,’ writes the ‘Smart Mules’ team. To accomplish these goals, ‘Smart Mules’ provides work for many young, at-risk males who have been ‘largely dismissed’ or disenfranchised, according to team leader Guerrero.” More here about the work these young men are doing for sustainability.

(A couple years ago, I wrote about Candy Chang’s “Before I Die” interactive street art.)

Photo: Neighborland.com

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After Albuquerque’s harsh approach to homelessness resulted in the death of a schizophrenic man in 2015, the city has done a 360.

NY Times reporter Fernanda Santos describes the current approach to homelessness: “Will Cole steered an old Dodge van along a highway access road one recent Tuesday, searching for panhandlers willing to work. … By the third stop, [nine] men and one woman had hopped inside.

“They were homeless. But suddenly, as part of a novel attempt to deal with rising poverty and destitution here, they were city workers for the day.

“Donning gloves and fluorescent vests, they raked a piece of messy ground by some railroad tracks on the edge of downtown … The toil paid off decently: $9 an hour and a lunch of sandwiches, chips and granola bars, enjoyed in a park. For the city, it represented a policy shift toward compassion and utility.

“ ‘It’s about the dignity of work, which is kind of a hard thing to put a metric on, or a matrix,’ Mayor Richard J. Berry said. ‘If we can get your confidence up a little, get a few dollars in your pocket, get you stabilized to the point where you want to reach out for services, whether the mental health services or substance abuse services — that’s the upward spiral that I’m looking for.’ …

“To collect their pay, they must work hard and work an entire shift, from start to finish — five to six hours, on average. They are paid in cash at the hospitality center’s employment office, two blocks from the shelter that feeds 400 people on a given day.

“The sole woman among the day laborers that recent Tuesday was Ramona Beletso, a Navajo Indian in her 40s who had twice fled abuse and destitution on the reservation. …

“ ‘I don’t even know how I ended up homeless,’ said Ms. Beletso, her eyes cast toward a pair of striped pink socks nearby, abandoned in a drying pool of mud. ‘Work helps me forget.’ …

“The mayor said he got the idea for the program from a panhandler he spotted on his way to work, holding a sign that read, ‘Want a job. Anything helps.’ It dawned on him that ‘the indignity of having to beg for money cuts through the soul.’ “

I saw almost the same sign in Providence last week. I usually duck my head and hurry on, embarrassed and not knowing what is right, but the young man who wanted work was so pleasant, perhaps I can think of a place he could ask about a job.

More on Albuquerque at the NY Times, here.

11/23/16 Update: Yesterday I saw the concept being applied by Amos House in Providence. The city has also said it intends to try it.

Photo: Mark Holm for The New York Times  
Panhandlers dug up weeds along a side street in Albuquerque as part of a work program in the city.

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