Early Childhood Education at Friendship Court: Access to Opportunity Means More Than Just Housing

Maryfrances Porter

One of our primary goals for redevelopment at Friendship Court is to improve quality of life and foster access to opportunity for all residents.

One part of fulfilling this goal will be to create new affordable housing for different income levels right on site, so that families have options as their financial situations change. But housing alone is not enough. We are also committed to providing new and expanded programs to support neighbors’ aspirations.

Over 50% of current residents are youth under 18, and children living in Friendship Court start school academically behind their peers. And although more than half of households have earned income, the median household income is less than $11,000.

We are responding to these challenges by bringing in a world class Early Childhood Education Center and integrated workforce development opportunities, designed in partnership with Friendship Court families, subject matter experts and local partners.

We propose using 6,000 square feet of community space for a world class Early Childhood Education Center. This Early Childhood Education Center would not only serve infants, toddlers and preschoolers living in Friendship Court but also children from the surrounding area.

We also plan to bring integrated job training to Friendship Court in partnership with the City’s successful Growing Opportunities (GO) employment program and others. The new Friendship Court will integrate job opportunities, computer space and connections to training programs in the community.

Of course, housing is what we know best. So how will we develop these programs to be successful, build on community strengths and create sustainable change?

We are working with an experienced consultant to identify effective models, cultivate local partnerships, and create “roadmaps” for developing the Early Childhood Education Center, as well as integrated workforce development opportunities.

Piedmont Housing Alliance has already secured grant funding from the United Way’s Initiative for Effective Nonprofits toward creating these roadmaps. We’ve asked Partnerships for Strategic Impact™ to build on the expertise of the Friendship Court Advisory Committee, and use an inclusive and informed process to gather information, build consensus, develop formal partnerships and identify priorities in these two areas. The resulting roadmaps will outline the specific components and expectations for each area, and will be used to launch and guide the work that will bring these projects to fruition.

We chose Dr. Maryfrances Porter of Partnerships for Strategic Impact™ based on her nearly 25 years of experience in research, evaluation, program development, and leading local change initiatives. Locally and currently, Dr. Porter is working with the City of Promise initiative, United Way Thomas Jefferson Area, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, the City Schoolyard Garden and the Music Resource Center.

Dr. Porter and her team are incorporating the mission, vision, values and goals of Piedmont Housing and the Master Plan throughout this process. This includes putting neighbors at the center of the process and actively supporting individuals to voice their opinions and perspectives.

The first step has been to convene two Work Group including:

–  members of the Friendship Court Advisory Committee
–  parents from Friendship Court and surrounding neighborhood
–  local experts in early childcare and education
–  local experts in supporting self-sufficiency and workforce development

Dr. Porter is researching evidence-based practices and innovative practices in Virginia and around the country, as well as talking one-on-one with local families and experts, and interviewing state and national experts.

The second step is for the Work Groups to meet at the end of March/beginning of April to discuss the information Dr. Porter has gathered and develop a set of specific components, expectations and priorities. The Work Groups will then guide the process of creating action plans and formalizing partnerships for going forward.