ince 1981, ACOC’s mission is to provide a comprehensive array of individual, family and community engagement services which creates a network of core supports to reduce poverty, strengthen families, improve communities and increase the number of realistic options for individuals to succeed in life, and we have worked hard to fulfill this mission since the organization was founded. The fact we’ve been in operation for over 30 years consecutively demonstrates our ability to positively impact the lives of our clients and to grow and expand our programs and services to meet the needs of those we serve. Our focus on providing quality programs and services for children, youth, adults and families has helped ACOC address some of the most pressing issues facing our target population. We operate under an “immediate service provider” model, in that our location inside the Langston Terrace Dwelling public housing development gives our clients direct access to our programs and services. Our location also allows us to serve some of the city’s poorest and most poverty stricken communities, in Ward 5 and the surrounding neighborhoods of Wards 6, 7, and 8.
Why do we place such an emphasis on education? Nationally, the high school graduation rate in the nation’s 50 largest cities was just 53%, compared with 71% in suburban areas. On the local level, 31% of residents in the communities served by ACOC do not have a high school diploma. Also, according to the District of Columbia Public Schools, in 2012 approximately 55% of elementary school students tested at a basic or below basic level in reading, with that number increasing to 58% for secondary students.
ACOC has recognized these glaring statistics and put programming in place to respond to these needs. Our GED program works with youth that have been incarcerated and adjudicated (through the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services), and members of the general public who want to earn their GED to obtain the requisite skills to pass the exam. Our GED classes are instructor led, and are complimented by small group and one-on-one instruction to meet students’ individual educational needs. Also, with the change in the GED exam to a computer-based exam and addition of new subject areas, we are now focused on preparing our students to take and pass the exam with the basic computer skills and content area instruction they will need to be successful. Getting these individuals to obtain a GED opens up opportunities for post-secondary education/certification, workforce training and development, and ultimately stable employment. We have also hosted a Summer Camp program for 3rd-6th grade students for the last three years, which has allowed us to give our students educational support and enrichment activities that address the problems of summer learning loss and remediation many students need at the beginning of the school year.
Additionally, due to the success of our Summer Camp, we were recently awarded a grant from the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust (the Trust), to host a year-round after school program that will focus on literacy and address the huge deficits many of our students face in their reading levels. We will also integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities and education into our after school program, in conjunction with the DC Sustainable Energy Project, to expose our children to careers in which minorities are underrepresented. We believe our focus on educating children, youth, and adults will help reverse trends of underachievement and level the playing field between our students and their counterparts.
Why do we provide food and emergency financial assistance to our clients? Across the country, poverty is another issue plaguing both urban and rural areas. According to a recent study published by Reuters, the number of U.S. residents living in poverty edged up to 46.5 million last year, the latest sign that the economic has not trickled down to ordinary Americans. Here in Washington, this trend is magnified in the communities ACOC serves, which are some of the poorest in the city. On average, these communities have a poverty rate of 28%, and an unemployment rate of 21%, meaning one in five residents is without stable employment. Unfortunately, children in the District suffer the most from conditions of poverty, and 37% of children in our communities live below the poverty line.
To address this high level of poverty in our community, ACOC has taken a multi-pronged approach. We are a provider of emergency financial assistance (rent, mortgage, utilities) to qualified DC residents, and are listed on the Mayor’s list of approved emergency assistance providers. This has allowed us to support and sustain thousands of DC residents with the basic shelter and sustenance they need to survive and provide for their families. However, we realize that emergency assistance alone does not adequately address the underlying causes of extreme poverty and prevent the cycle of poverty from continuing from generation to generation. Our job readiness program and computer training program seek to arm our community with the necessary skills to research, interview for, obtain and retain stable employment in careers of their interest.
Anyone interested in finding employment can come to ACOC, sign up for our job readiness and/or basic computer skills classes, which are instructor led and computer based. In our fully integrated computer lab, students can take job readiness assessments that gauge their career interest, learn the fundamentals of job research, resume writing and interviewing, as well as basic Microsoft office skills in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. We believe it is not enough to simply provide help in cases of emergency; we must continue to help people help themselves by finding stable jobs and careers that will support them and their families efforts to not just survive, but thrive!
Why do we believe so strongly in supporting whole family units? A recent study published by The Root found that in the United States, ONLY 31% of African American children have both a mother and a father in the home, 53% have only a mother present, 7% have only a father present; and 9% have neither parent present. U.S. Census data also points to a dramatic increase in overall single parent households (30% of total households) and births to single mothers (40% of total births as of 2008). As with many of these statistics, the issue is exacerbated in D.C. In the areas ACOC serves, 63% of households are headed by females only.
Since its inception, ACOC has supported full, healthy family units. Our Married Couples with Children Assistance Program (MCCAP) provides families with counseling services, emergency financial assistance, and marriage “boot camps” to help couples sort through issues and support them in keeping their family units intact. Additionally, we offer counseling services to unmarried couples, single-parents, and individuals who struggle with substance abuse and maintaining healthy relationships in the home. Many of our other programs that focus on education and job readiness also address family strengthening by increasing our clients’ chances of being able to adequately support not only themselves, but their families as well.
ACOC’s work is never done; we will continue to innovate and position ourselves to address the many needs of the communities we serve. Why do we do so much? Because so much is needed!