Group hopes to ‘impact’ those in crisis, reverse poverty cycle

A local church is looking to make an ‘impact’ on the South Hill community by partnering with a highly effective Georgia-based organization that specializes in moving people from poverty, dependence and crisis to self-sufficiency.
Impact Church of God of South Hill hosted members of the community at the VFW Hall on Friday for a “White House style state dinner” to hear from members of the City of Refuge executive team.
After Chef John Moeller, a former White House chef during the Clinton and Bush years, shared several stories about former inhabitants of the White House and their eating habits, attendees heard from the executive team of City of Refuge, which operates an 8-acre campus in the city of Atlanta that’s billed as a “one-stop shop” for people in crisis, with key impact areas in health and wellness, housing, human trafficking, education, vocational training and youth development.
Chief Strategy Officer Terry Tucker said City of Refuge is now operating in 20 communities throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, and Chief Executive Officer and founder Bruce Deel said his decades-old relationship with Impact Church of God Pastor Chafik Laaissaoui led the group to South Hill.
Tucker said 20 percent of South Hill residents live in poverty, while 27 percent of children live in poverty and 56 percent of children live just above the poverty level. He said 7.3 percent of children live in deep poverty, which he defined as less than $15,000 a year for a family of four. He said 60 percent of the children in South Hill receive free or reduced lunch at school, and 44 percent live in single-parent households.
Noting the 90 percent on-time graduation rate at Park View High School, Tucker also said 78 percent of residents age 25 and above are high school graduates. However, he said research shows if that statistic were raised by 10 percent, it would add $24 million in earnings per class over the lifetime of the class members. Adding a college degree would increase the economic impact even more.
“This is what it’s costing you, almost per class that graduates,” he said.
Tucker said over the last 20 years City of Refuge has created a sustainable model to create transformation for people in crisis that many today are following.
“It’s not just a model of, we feel bad for you so let us come in and help you,” he said. “There’s actually some science behind what City of Refuge is doing.”
He said in order to ensure someone won’t ever experience poverty, there are several key points throughout their lifetime. The first step is he or she is born at a normal birth rate to a non-poor married mother who has at least a high school diploma.
In early childhood, the person needs to have acceptable pre-reading and math skills and behavior that is school-appropriate; in middle childhood, they should have basic reading and math skills and basic social and emotional skills.
They need to graduate from high school not being a parent with a GPA greater than 2.5 and no crime convictions. As they transition to adulthood, they need to live independently, receive a college degree or post-high school training, and have an income greater than 250 percent of poverty level.
“It seems like common sense, but a lot of people don’t realize that these are the foundations that make sure someone doesn’t experience poverty,” Tucker said. “Guess what that leads to, a thriving community where they can live independently, they have the degree of training, and they have a family income more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level.”
Tucker said if a person hits all the key points City of Refuge has identified, there’s only a 7 percent chance that person will experience poverty in their lifetime. However, kids who are born into poverty miss the very first point.
“Every time you miss one of those steps, not only does it become harder for you to stay out of poverty, it becomes more expensive for people like City of Refuge to help get you out of poverty, and there’s a lower chance of it sticking,” Tucker said.
Tucker said City of Refuge and its partners have put together a program that addresses a person’s needs at each level, from housing to youth development and education to health and wellness and jobs.
Deel said currently society mostly deals with immediate issues — temporary housing, food insecurity, clothing, etc. He said the system needs to be more forward-thinking to prepare people from time they are born so they don’t have to experience poverty.
“We want to reach a child before we have to rescue a man, so we want to start early in that process,” he said. “Yes, we have to continue doing the triage (housing, food, clothing) for those who didn’t get that, but we also need to be working together to do the preparation to make sure we have fewer people going into that pool.”
At its campus in Atlanta, City of Refuge has hundreds of people in a program that includes all the support services they’ll need, including medical, mental health, dental, vision, vocational training, parenting classes, daycare, afterschool programs and education.
To offer these services, Deel said City of Refuge partners with a number of organizations, including government, nonprofits and companies such as Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, Suntrust, Delta Airlines, etc.
Deel said with Impact Church of God already operating a childcare center, afterschool services and a substance abuse program, it would make a good partner for City of Refuge, which is seeking other partners in the South Hill community as well as a building that could serve as a headquarters.
A native of Morocco, Laaissaoui said he’s lived here for 24 years and genuinely wants to see South Hill grow and thrive.
“Living here for 24 years, I get jealous of this place,” he said. “South Hill is in my blood. I want to see South Hill doing better. I want to see great stuff happening in South Hill. I want to see better education here for our kids, I want to see better hospital in South Hill. I want to see better doctors in South Hill. I want to see better transportation in South Hill. We need one another. United, we can do it.”