“There’s a lot of interest and a lot of engagement, and a lot of people want to see change in this community,” said Vanessa Ward, president of Omega CDC. “We’re already seeing some of that beginning, which is a great story to build on.”
Omega CDC, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Omega Baptist Church, has applied to the US Department of Education for approximately $30 million in funding from the Promise Neighborhoods grant program.
Omega CDC purchased the 30-acre United Theological Seminary more than a decade and a half ago, and the nonprofit has opened a new senior living facility and Hope Center for Families on the property.
The Promise Neighborhoods program is designed to help improve the academic and developmental outcomes of children living in communities of concentrated poverty and transform disadvantaged neighborhoods into areas of opportunity.
A key goal of the program is to ensure young people have access to quality schools and strong systems of family and community support to help them achieve a good education and make the transition to college and careers, the Department of Education said.
The program has a “place-based” focus on specific impoverished regions, and Omega CDC has established a new “Zone of Hope” that includes some or all of about 17 boroughs in Northwest Dayton.
The zone’s primary boundaries are Gettysburg Avenue, Siebenthaler Avenue, Riverside Drive, Riverview Avenue, and James H. McGee Boulevard.
The Hope Zone in northwest Dayton is home to about 6,700 children and 3,400 families, Omega CDC said, and the federal grant would help fund programs and services aimed at increasing students’ academic achievement.
Omega CDC would work with three Dayton Public Schools located inside or outside the Hope Zone: Edwin Joel Brown Middle School, Fairview Elementary and Thurgood Marshall High School.
The federal funding would help cover the cost of each student’s success planning, as well as “navigators,” who work one-on-one with children and assess their academic performance, attendance and other key indicators, Ward said.
Some interventions would focus on prenatal education, early learning, K-12 education, extended out-of-school learning and support, and post-secondary educational support.
Other services could focus on mental health, nutrition, school-community partnerships, community development and community safety.
Promise Neighborhoods grantees are required to secure 100 percent federal funding coverage, and Omega CDC received commitments worth three times that amount, or about $90 million, Ward said.
The program is very competitive, but Ward said Omega CDC has strong application, especially since it included 33 letters of intent with partner organizations.
The Hope Zone initiative could increase opportunities for more home visitation for pregnant and new mothers, more infant and young child care, and more free preschool places, said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Preschool Promise Inc., one of the partner organizations.
“It would allow us to offer Parents Play on Purpose groups to help parents overcome the challenges of raising young children,” Lightcap said. “It would allow us to improve wages so that highly qualified teachers want to work in Northwest Dayton’s childcare and preschool programs.”
She said the Hope Zone will help more children have the educational experiences they need to grow and thrive.
Learn to Earn, another nonprofit partner organization, says it will support the Hope Zone by offering technical assistance, capacity building and resources.
“Education is the foundation of a thriving economy, and Dayton, Ohio, requires a catalytic investment to address the widening disparity in student outcomes in our most impoverished neighborhoods,” said Stacy Wall Schweikhart, CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton.
The City of Dayton, which describes itself as a key stakeholder and financial contributor, has committed to investing $22 million in the Hope Zone through 2028.
These include investments in public safety ($11 million), housing ($4.5 million), and improvements to public roads and infrastructure ($3.5 million).
Ward said the Hope Zone model will be used whether or not Omega CDC receives government grants, but without them things won’t move as quickly.
Omega CDC is currently trying to raise $1 million, about half of which has already been committed, to try to double the number of children the Hope Center serves from the current 500, Ward said.
“This starts with the implementation of the Hope Zone proposal,” she said.