Nearly 50 citizens, including several Danville City Council members, gathered Thursday at a meeting of the Danville United Community Relations Coalition to discuss youth issues, including high school dropout, poverty and teen birth rates that remain well above state averages.
After nearly two hours of discussion, a consensus developed that programs and services are available, in part, to mitigate these issues, but a lack of awareness exists.
“We have heard tonight about the many assets in place,” said the Rev. John Carroll, vice chairman of Danville United. “The question now is how can we organize what we have and best put them to work.”
Group breakout sessions produced a list of suggestions, including securing money for marketing and recruitment, encouraging greater collaboration among the various program and service providers, and initiating a neighborhood outreach.
“People who really need services are not going to look for them because they are embarrassed,” said Lillie Jones, comprehensive services coordinator for Danville Social Services. “So you have to go to them, and you cannot go into the neighborhood dressed in your business clothing. … You cannot market your services in a way they do not understand or intimidates them.”
Starling McKenzie, a senior program officer for the Danville Regional Foundation, presented statistics that show the high school dropout rate in Danville has improved from 11.5 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2012. However, the state average is 1.9 percent.
Teen birth rates in Danville also have improved, but they remain nearly twice the state average.
The percentage of children in poverty has increased from 37 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2014. The state average is 16 percent.
The statistics were gathered by the foundation as part of a community report card. The full report is available on the foundation’s website – www.drfonline.org. Armed with these statistics, the foundation has funded several educational and health initiatives aimed at early intervention.
Cynthia Johnson, family services coordinator for Danville Public Schools; John Moody, director of Social Services for Danville; and Amanda Oakes, director of prevention services for Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services, participated in a panel discussion, during which they outlined available programs and services.
Moody said his department receives $126 million in federal and state money to serve a population of only 43,000. Of this amount, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program account for slightly more than half of the total.
“It shows you clearly the poverty that exists,” Moody said.
Panelists also talked about gaps in programs and services, and they talked about the need for parents to be responsible.
“It starts at the home,” Moody said. “We as parents are not doing all we should. It is being responsible, but it is hard telling a child who has a child to be responsible. That is what I see on a daily basis.”
Oakes talked about early intervention. “If we invest in early intervention, then I promise you that we will see a better community.”
The meeting, which drew a total of 46 citizens, was held at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Previous meetings have been held at Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
The coalition provides a means for networking, information sharing and strategy development to make Danville a more tolerant, friendly and welcoming community to all regardless of race, gender, religion, creed, ethnicity, nationality, or economic status. Danville City Council voted unanimously in October to create the coalition.
The Rev. Ron Johnson, pastor at Holbrook Presbyterian Church in Danville, serves as chairman of Danville United. Carroll is pastor at First Baptist.
Membership is open to all individuals and organizations. For more information on Danville United, visit www.danvilleunited.org.