Valley Voices

Let’s transform 93701 neighborhood into Family Success Zone

Students in the Reading and Beyond two-week, summer kindergarten camp were busy learning their ABCs and 123s.
Students in the Reading and Beyond two-week, summer kindergarten camp were busy learning their ABCs and 123s. Special to The Bee

Brazil is my native country, and I am spending a lot of time watching the Olympics this month. I’m enjoying the views of the lush forests and jungles as well as the cities as I think of my hometown, which is a medium-sized city.

But I also think frequently about the similarities between the favelas (Brazilian slums) and the poorest ZIP code in Fresno, 93701, which is also the poorest ZIP code in California among areas with 1,000 or more residents.

This ZIP code is in the old Lowell neighborhood and home to about 13,000 residents, largely Hispanic, and other recent immigrants. More than half of the families live below the poverty level with a median household income of $18,000.

More than 20 percent of the adults are unemployed and the majority do not have high school diplomas or general education diplomas. In fact, one-third of the adults have less than a ninth-grade education.

But like the people of the favelas, while the residents of 93701 may live in poverty and lack education, they have a tremendous will to survive and get ahead, no matter what the struggle. That is why Reading and Beyond, a nonprofit organization, has taken as its mission the transformation of 93701into the Family Success Zone.

We will accomplish this through education, job training and healthy-living programs for the entire family. Unlike other organizations that may focus either on children or their parents, we treat the entire family as a system with each part interdependent with the other.

This month we are starting a campaign to involve Fresnans in supporting the transformation of 93701. Reading and Beyond has been working for 17 years in Fresno and much has been accomplished, but there is so much more that is needed.

Our programs reach from cradle to career. In our early foundations work, we provide support for pregnant moms, parents, infants and toddlers. Nutrition education is an important component, as is a preschool program to help provide readiness experiences leading to success in formal schooling.

For public-school-age children, we focus on academic support, especially reading. We pay special attention to the transitional years as students move from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school. College-prep support boosts skills and confidence for this final academic transition.

Older youths and adults can study for their GEDs, practice conversational English and join job clubs to explore interests and talents. The Fresno Bridge Academy aims to help families become independent of government assistance through skills assessment, vocational training and job counseling and placement.

How do we accomplish these complex goals? Reading and Beyond provides family navigators, or coaches, for regular home visits, case management and establishing individual goal plans. We work closely with public-school partners and maintain progress records through ongoing data collection.

We know we are on the right path, because ongoing research at the University of Delaware and the University of Oregon confirms that interventions in which parents of young children are provided with home coaching, comparable to the work of our family navigators, have a powerful positive effect on emotional and psychological capacities that enable a child to negotiate life successfully inside and outside of school.

A recent article in The New York Times noted this: “When children spend their early years in communities and homes where life is unstable and chaotic – which is true of a disproportionate number of children growing up in poverty – the intense and chronic stress they experience can seriously disrupt their development.”

That is why interventions such as family navigator home visits with parents to establish a warm, stable, nurturing environment can reduce children’s stress and improve their emotional stability.

To accomplish this, we need support from community residents including donations, volunteers and the provision of job opportunities for qualified residents. Our donation campaign is centered on our ZIP code numbers.

We invite you to donate in the amount of $9,370.01, $937.01, $93.70, or even $9.37. If you wish, you can assign your donation to a specific program such as our family navigators, preschool, tutoring, GED program or job training. These may be sent to Reading and Beyond at 4670 East Butler Ave., Fresno, CA 93702.

We also need volunteers for tutoring, especially in grades K-8. Call us at 559-342-8600 if you would like to help a youngster with reading skills. Training is provided. Likewise, if you have a business where you would like well-trained entry level employees, we will be happy to discuss your needs.

With your support, we can turn 93701 into the Family Success Zone.

Luis Santana of Fresno is a social worker and executive director of Reading and Beyond. Email: lsantana@readingandbeyond.org.

How to help

Donate: $9,370.01, $937.01, $93.70, or $9.37

Volunteer: Tutors are needed for children in grades K-8

Hire: Entry-level employees

Contact Reading and Beyond, 559-342-8600 , or send donations to 4670 E. Butler Ave., Fresno, CA 93702.

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