Ada Jenkins believed.
As a black school teacher during the Great Depression, she believed in the power of education to change lives – and the power of a community to help.
When the Davidson Colored School burned to the ground in the 1930s, Jenkins rallied the community to raise funds for a new brick schoolhouse. The school opened in 1937 and served black students for three decades prior to desegregation in 1966.
Today, that brick schoolhouse still stands, serving as a beacon of help and change for families impacted by poverty in northern Mecklenburg County. Its name honors the woman who believed change was always possible: The Ada Jenkins Families and Career Development Center.
“We exist to help people in our community build lasting solutions for health, education and economic stability,” said Georgia Krueger, a former volunteer and board member who has served as the Center’s executive director since 2009.
Most solutions can be found under one roof – a historically designated and well-worn building in west Davidson that reopened in 1998 and was owned by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools until last year, when it was purchased by Ada Jenkins Inc.
The Center is a resource hub serving families in Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville, N.C., within certain economic boundaries. What makes Ada Jenkins unique is that it works with the entire family to provide needed services.
Those services might include educational enrichment programs for academically struggling students; medical and dental services; food pantry; housing and utilities assistance; and job training and placement services. The Center partners with local resources to provide other services, including Safe Alliance for counseling services and crisis assistance, and Lydia’s Loft for clothing services. Organizations including Crisis Assistance Ministries and the YMCA also offer programs at the Ada Jenkins Center.
The Center receives support through grants and foundations, events, individual and corporate donors, and United Way. The Allen Tate Companies supports the Ada Jenkins Center as part of its Tate Cares United Way campaign each spring.
“We look at the entire family as a whole, and we help them choose the one service that will most help them,” Krueger said. “We’re not a hand out or even a hand up. Rather, we’re a hand with.”
Many of the 3,800+ clients served annually by the Center – known as client-partners – are simply “teetering on the edge of the benefits cliff,” according to Krueger. “The cost of living is high in these communities. Many families are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet.”
Some client-partners are victims of “situational poverty” – an illness or job loss that simply puts them in survival mode. During the recession, Krueger said that some long-time donors and volunteers became Center clients because of lost employment or reduced wages.
“Many of us are just a few paychecks away from poverty,” said Krueger.
For some families experiencing 3rd- or 4th-generation poverty, lasting solutions require a long-term commitment.
“A family must be committed to making an investment in change. Once they commit, they are partnered with a coordinated services specialist, who will work with them to peel back the onion to reveal the root causes of their economic uncertainty,” said Krueger.
From there, they develop a family goal plan, to include education services for children and life skills for adults.
Sarah and her family made the commitment. She had been helped by the Center in different ways, and showed a willingness to work more closely with her case worker. Through the Center, she secured dependable transportation to get her sons to and from their afterschool enrichment program and summer camp, as well as affordable daycare for her baby. Sarah learned to budget, reduced her debt and secured a more stable job to increase her income. She built up her savings, which enabled her to move to secure housing, establish credit and work toward her dream of homeownership. Her oldest son is now motivated to attend college and her younger children are thriving academically.
Because Ada Jenkins believed, families like Sarah’s have hope for the future.
“It’s not uncommon for a family to work on a plan for years,” said Krueger. “But change is worth it. We celebrate each success, because success breeds success.”
Want to help? To donate, volunteer or refer someone in need, visit the website or call 704-896-0471.