Faith Summit tackles child poverty in Durham

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 03:05 PM

2013 Faith Summit of Child Poverty
WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Union Baptist Church
904 N. Roxboro St. Durham
INFORMATION: Visit or find the event info on Facebook.
SPONSORS: Durham Public Schools, Dept. of Social Services, Durham Congregations in Action, Durham CAN, NAACP-Durham branch, Duke Medicine, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Duke Chapel, Duke Divinity School, Healthy Families Durham, East Durham Children's Initiative, Partnership for a Healthy Durham, United Way of the Greater Triangle, Living the Word Ministry-Durham, the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Federation for Social Action (The Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministry), and the NC Council of Churches.

A newborn with no crib. A kindergartner who goes to school hungry. A mother who chooses between buying food for her family or paying the light bill. These are the situations Durham Connects nurses encounter when visiting a family in poverty. Because Durham Connects is a universal program, we see all babies in their home, regardless of income. Today we are seeing far too many families who are contending with poverty and inequality. Unemployment and disparities have widened the gap between rich and poor in our community. Currently 14,000 children in Durham are in poverty. This is more than 1 in 4 of our youngest citizens – well above the state and national average. “We have a dreadful 27 percent child poverty rate in Durham – a fact that is shameful and unacceptable,” said End Poverty Durham’s Mel Williams.
Nearly every service provider in Durham knows the effects of poverty on families, including local churches and nonprofits that serve the poor. Duke Medical Center and the county health department have realized that poverty is a “social determinant of health” that must be addressed in order to have a healthy community. “Poverty is both a lack of basic resources and opportunity,” said Williams.  “Poverty is complex, with at least five key areas:   education, housing, health care, jobs, and family support (childcare, transportation). Children in low income families have stresses and pressures that can result in low achievement in school, inadequate nutrition, and health concerns,” continued Williams.
What can be done about such a complex social and political issue? Durham’s Partnership for Children and End Poverty Durham have teamed up to create a call to action. The first ever Faith Summit on Child Poverty will be held in Durham on Jan. 24 at Union Baptist Church to find solutions. The summit will focus on action steps that congregations and agencies can take to reduce child poverty in Durham.
“There is much good work happening in the faith community, but the Faith Summit will offer new opportunities for the faith community to get involved with current community initiatives or to expand or start programs where there are gaps,” said Winnie Morgan, Early Childhood Faith Outreach Coordinator at Durham’s Partnership for Children.
The event is co-chaired by Morgan and Williams. Williams has a long history of anti-poverty work. He was pastor at Watts Baptist Church for 24 years until his retirement in 2012, and now he works for MDC, which supports his organization, End Poverty Durham. MDC is a statewide anti-poverty non-profit that dates back to Governor Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund. Through End Poverty Durham Williams helped launch the Durham Economic Resource Center (DERC) to provide job training and to provide necessities to Durham’s poor. The collaboration also helped to create the Early Childhood Faith Initiative Coordinator position filled by Morgan.
Williams’ wife, Jan, is director of Healthy Families Durham at the Center for Child & Family Health, which has been serving young and at-risk parents in Durham for nearly 20 years by offering them support and guidance for up to three years after birth. Jan Williams knows firsthand how poverty can lead to “toxic stress” for children, which studies show negatively affects their developing brains. “Toxic stress is defined as strong and persistent stress that occurs as a result of family or community violence, family mental illness or depression, or the ongoing burdens of long-term economic hardship,” she said. “Toxic stress can occur with any economic group, but is more likely to occur in families living in poverty because of the grinding economic stressors and the higher likelihood of living in communities with chronic violence.”
Research now shows that the toxic stress of living in poverty often leads to learning and behavior problems and a higher likelihood of chronic health conditions in adulthood like diabetes and heart disease. In this way, poverty is a community problem.
Mel Williams and Morgan have organized a powerful planning group of community agencies and congregations to lead the summit next week. State President of the NAACP William Barber will speak at the event along with J. Herbert Nelson of Presbyterian Church USA. The summit will begin to tackle the issue of child poverty by focusing on the needs of specific age ranges. Groups will be formed to address children 0-5 years of age, 6-12 and 13-18.
Williams reminds us that in a community, “if one suffers, we all suffer.”
He continues, “the faith community has much power—spiritual, moral and compassionate power. There is spiritual and physical energy in congregations that can bring significant change in the community. We know that many congregations are already involved in working with the poor. Through the Faith Summit, we hope to invite increased involvement, both in acts of charity and justice.”
The event is free and open to the public. However, there is a $10 recommended donation if attending lunch. Child care is available upon request. Congregations are urged to form a team to attend. KidzNotes will be performing at 8 a.m. during morning registration. To register, please visit:
Jeannine Sato is the director of the nonprofit Durham Connects.