Carson Praises EnVision Center for Education, Workforce Efforts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With the Youngstown City School District currently conducting all classes remotely, ensuring students get the support they need is “absolutely crucial” to their educational success, said Ben Carson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“If a child gets three months or six months or even a year behind, it has a dramatic impact on the rest of their lives,” Carson said outside the Rockford Village EnVision Center on the city’s east side. “I think that’s something that some people don’t understand.”

The situation isn’t as difficult for students in more affluent areas because they have access to broadband and high-speed internet, the secretary said. In lower income areas, particularly among underserved minority populations, the assistance is critical because students aren’t currently able to access that infrastructure in the schools.

“In a lot of communities like this, those things don’t exist. And this really helps to fill the gap,” he said.

Carson joined community leaders in a tour of the Rockford Village EnVision Center, which launched in June 2018, and the neighboring Center for Community Empowerment. Rather than simply provide a government housing option for residents in need, the EnVision Center is designed to “take a holistic approach going way beyond brick-and-mortar, and really investing in people and helping them realize their potential,” he said. “I’m pleased to see that Rockford Village EnVision Center is doing just that.”

The center and its partners offer child care, counseling sessions, community programming, meals before and after school, a computer lab and a re-entry program for residents returning from prison, which is spearheaded by United Returning Citizens.

To fulfill its mission, the EnVision Center introduced an educational support assistance program to assist families and students with remote learning, as well as an entrepreneurship program for adults and children.

Ultimately, Carson said, the goal is to provide necessary supports and service in a central location to help residents “stand on their own” and break the cycle of dependency. Such services include education, job training, financial literacy and mentoring.

“EnVision centers were derived from the belief that HUD’s true measure of success is not how many people are in government programs, but how many we can get out of programs and onto a road of self-sufficiency,” he said.

“I think the center fully recognizes that education is really the key liberator from dependency,” he continued. “You can be born in the worst ghetto, born in the most remote farm in Appalachia, but if you get a good education, you write your own ticket.”

Typically, the EnVision Center services some 60 to 70 students, but the coronavirus pandemic reduced that number to about 30 over the summer, said Kathy Hammond, its community outreach specialist. Currently, the center serves 10 students through the remote learning assistance program, she said.

The center would like to expand the program, she says, but with only two large rooms in the building, “we have to be really careful” and abide by the guidelines set by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have had to slice the program down considerably,” she said. “We were fortunate and blessed that we didn’t have any COVID cases.”

Ben Carson, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Students are enrolled in Youngstown City Schools and attend the all-day program and EnVision on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Hammond said. Staff help students with their work and feed them breakfast and lunch. “We give them a whole school day,” she said.

The center is launching an entrepreneurship program for children in partnership with Youngstown State University, in which students will start their own businesses and the center will pay for the incorporation of LLCs and employer identification numbers, Hammond said.

“We’re buying equipment, press machines, embroidery machines. All of that will be right here at the center,” she said.

United Returning Citizens is helping with that effort and has already seen a few of the adult residents purchase space in the area for businesses, said Executive Director Dionne Dowdy.

URC helps residents establish an LLC and develop a business plan, as well establish credit, acquire funding and develop their products and services.

“The youth are very creative, especially in this pandemic time,” Dowdy said. “Anything that can support and build the economy within the Rockford Village and the EnVision Center. And we’re happy to even be a part of that.

“We have all this land out here and all the empty buildings,” she added. “So how perfect would that be if we put some businesses in there?”

Pictured at top: Ben Carson tours the Rockford Village EnVision Center with community leaders, including HUD Midwest Regional Director Joseph Galvin and Rev. Willie Peterson, pastor of the NewBirth Kimmelbrook Baptist Church in Youngstown and executive director of The Center for Community Empowerment.

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