Even spread out over two adjoining apartments, 26 kids is about 20 too many. The noise alone is overwhelming, with the yelling and laughter expanding to fill every available inch. Still, the newly opened Charlotte Empowerment Zone in the Pressley Ridge Apartments is something of a miracle.
There are often children waiting for its doors to open Tuesday nights, jostling to get inside first for the most unexpected of reasons. “They’re helping us with our homework,” says 11-year-old Moesha Brown. “So we can go to college,” adds her 9-year-old sister, Sabrina.
The empowerment zone, which started Jan. 26 with just 11 kids, represents Charlotte’s first attempt at re-creating New York City’s successful Harlem Children’s Zone, an educational initiative serving 17,000 children in a 100-city block area of Harlem.
At its core, empowerment zones are about keeping at-risk kids in school all the way through college. But the effort goes well beyond tutoring, into the realm of transforming entire at-risk neighborhoods through education, social services and community-building programs.
The nonprofit agency NeXus Urban Serve is behind the Charlotte zone, which was recently lauded by Mayor Anthony Foxx as “the kind of bold initiative our city needs.”
NeXus has crafted six programs for Pressley Ridge, including day care/preschool education, summer school and even parent training. Noah Manyika is the founder of NeXus, and his dream is for the success in Pressley Ridge to prompt nonprofits to create zones in all of Charlotte’s troubled areas.
“Money will always be in short supply for the schools, so we need to ask ourselves as a society: Are we going to just give up, or are we going to start trying to do things differently?” he says. “How about instead of asking the child to come to us for help, we focus resources on their home and their community, to make sure it is supportive of goals in the schools?”
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