Every child deserves a chance to succeed in school and in life. However, research shows that children born to wealthy families tend to become wealthy adults, while those born to poor families tend to remain tethered to poverty. Nowhere is that reality starker, perhaps, than in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region, where children of families at the bottom of the economic ladder stand less than a 5 percent chance of rising to the top as adults – one of the worst rates of upward mobility in America.
Believing that every child deserves a chance to thrive, The Duke Endowment is supporting an ambitious 10-year strategy that uses large, targeted investments in early childhood to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Guilford County, a major population center of the Triad. The strategy, called the Get Ready Guilford Initiative, is spearheaded by the Endowment and Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready), an organization helping to lead the fight for better early childhood outcomes in Guilford County. The work is rooted in the science of child development, which suggests virtually every child can succeed if specific fundamental needs are met at crucial developmental points. By expanding proven programs and weaving disjointed early childhood resources into one seamless system of care, the Get Ready Guilford Initiative aims to ensure those critical developmental needs are met.
Get Ready Guilford represents the Endowment’s largest and boldest foray into “place-based” grantmaking, a philanthropic concept that pursues lasting social change at the community level by aligning local resources and programs into a cohesive system. Previously, the Endowment has supported the Northside Initiative in Spartanburg, S.C., and the Renaissance West Community Initiative in Charlotte, N.C. Both of these place-based efforts follow the Purpose-Built Communities model, which aims to revitalize struggling urban neighborhoods by supplying high-quality affordable housing, a cradle-to-college education pipeline and community wellness programs.
About 6,000 children are born in Guilford County each year, and about half start life in poverty. Guilford has one of the highest high school graduation rates in North Carolina, yet only 38 percent of the class of 2010 completed a college degree within six years of high school graduation. This problem, which reflects a disconnect between high school graduation requirements and career readiness, is often rooted in earlier educational troubles. Guilford suffers from low rates of kindergarten readiness (45 percent) and 3rd grade reading proficiency (47 percent).
The Get Ready Guilford Initiative aims to confront these problems early in life, when children’s brains develop most rapidly. It seeks to improve individual and population-level outcomes for about 55,000 children, prenatally through age 8, across five key areas: Planned and well-timed pregnancies; healthy births; on-track infant and toddler development at 12, 24 and 36 months; school readiness at kindergarten; and success by third grade.
Guilford County was selected because of its rich history of early childhood innovation and collaboration, Ready Ready’s work galvanizing the community on behalf of young children, and the presence of three national programs with proven effects on child well-being. Guilford’s diverse population and demographics make it an ideal place to scale and pattern solutions that could be applied in other communities across the state and nation. Engaging an entire county in this work offers a valuable opportunity to collaborate with government systems that typically operate on a county-wide basis.
The Endowment’s Board of Trustees in 2015 agreed to join Blue Meridian Partners, a pioneering philanthropic model that finds and funds scalable solutions to problems that limit economic mobility and trap America’s young people and families in poverty. Originally incubated by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Blue Meridian is a group of results-oriented philanthropists pooling funds to invest in both national and regional strategies.
After considerable research and planning, Blue Meridian Partners approved a $32.5 million investment over three years to support the first phase of the Guilford strategy. The Endowment is contributing half of that investment. Those contributions will leverage another $43.5 million in existing local, state and national funding from public and private sources.
The first three-year phase is aimed at building a continuum of services for families and children prenatally to age 3. Phase II will expand services to ages 3 to 5, while laying the groundwork for serving children along the entire developmental continuum, prenatally to age 8. The core strategy calls for offering assessments to every family in Guilford County, connecting them to effective resources matching their needs, and coordinating the community’s care.
The goal is to improve individual and population-level outcomes by harnessing and integrating evidence-based programming, bringing successful programs out of their silos to work together. The Get Ready Guilford effort will use a collective impact framework that aligns efforts across systems and organizations.