The Ripple Effect with Read to Succeed

Three hundred students; not showing up for class and unaccounted for by their perspective schools.

During the onset of the COVID- pandemic, that was the reality identified by the staff at the Edington Center, managed by Resident Services Director Shaunda Jackson. That was unacceptable for the staff and community members at the Edington Center - too many bright young students were missing out on essential education. In response to the overwhelming number of students missing virtual schooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic  Asheville City Schools, in partnership with the Asheville Housing Authority, CHOSEN (a local nonprofit), and other community organizations, created a program known as Positive Opportunities Develop Success. PODS established in-person outposts providing computer and internet access at various sites, including PODS at the Edington Center.


“By June, when they [the students] didn’t go back to school. We knew they needed to be contacted or reached out to”, said Jackson as she recalled the beginning of the pandemic, “ By September of the next school year, we were up and running. We had 13 education sites and over 260 kids at the time”. Roughly 88% of the students whose school was not reaching them, were able to receive support through the Edington Center. However, Jackson is adamant about the community effort it took and continues to take. “It’s great to have community partners because you get all those different skill sets”, said Jackson as she shared a cheeky smile with Jacquelyn Hall. Hall is the Co-Executive Director of the local non-profit Read to Succeed, which has partnered with the Edington Center for several years. 

“We know COVID-19 significantly affected our Black and Brown children, everyone was negatively affected, but they were more affected,” explained Hall, “In our city schools, the opportunity gap, which was already terrible, grew during that time. Having kids from all over helped us shore up some of the skills they missed during the pandemic.”


“Our mission is to close the race-based opportunity gap through community-powered literacy,” Hall continued, “And what better way to serve that mission than to work in a place that is already serving over 100 children of color?” Indeed, the Edington center, located in the Southside-  one of Asheville’s historically Black neighborhoods, was an opportune place to reach its target audience. Still, beyond that, the Edington Center stands out uniquely in the Asheville Community. Its' rare quality comes from the people of the community who live, work, and commune at PODS at the Edington Center. Although Read to Succeed focuses on youth literacy, Hall told of how one of the most rewarding aspects of working with the Edington Center was not about the children but the community's adults. 


“Getting to watch the adults grow has been something we’ve seen too,” remembered Hall, “It wasn’t just Read to Succeed doing all the teaching. They showed pride in the things they wanted to do. They grew in that area and then wanted to share that with the students; it was renavigating some of those earlier childhood experiences with education in a positive way. And we know they are giving those positive experiences to their kids and grandkids. They are really taking the skills back to their families and taking it seriously of how important it is for kids to be able to read.”


The ripple effect of education and community was continuously stressed as one of the most critical aspects of the success of PODS at the Edington Center and Read to Succeed program. The beauty of this sense of community is that it can reach beyond a singular place. Although the Edington Center is a foundational pillar in the Southside community and beyond, there are limitations like space due to funding and the history of the city of Asheville of dismantling the city's Black communities. However, Read to Succeed understands the imposed limitation and does not allow them to dictate their actions. “We can’t reach everyone as a single organization,” said Hall, “but if we band together with multiple organizations, we can reach the entire area.” Not only does Read to Succeed work with community centers and participate in networks like United for Youth, they are also continuously working with other community leaders and organizations.

If you had (quietly, because it was nap time) walked into the Christine W. Avery Learning Center just a few weeks ago you would have seen Hall carrying a large stack of children's books all titled, “Black Boy, Black Boy.” As the young students woke up from their naps, they were greeted by the author of “Black Boy, Black Boy,” who was the local leader and lawyer Jorge Redman. In collaboration with Christine W. Avery Learning Center, Read to Succeed organized Redman’s visit to several classrooms. The children, ranging from 5 to 12 years old, were visibly excited as their guest author sat down and began to read the book he had written. 

Hall watched over the classroom along with other staff from the Learning Center, smiling as the students shared their thoughts with Mr. Redman. The children’s book showcases various famous leaders, all Black men. His goal was simple yet powerful; to expose young Black boys and girls to a wider variety of careers than they may have known. Hall understands the importance of exposing young students to new ideas through literature and has a comprehensive knowledge of the community partnerships that must occur to reach youth literacy proficiency. “Just being present in the building,” said Hall, “it’s about being in the community and training other people to be ready to serve; it’s the ripple effect.”

Although Hall rightfully notes that Read to Succed’s work is impossible without a trusting and trauma-informed community base, Shaunda Jackson of the Edington Center emphasizes the importance of having organizations and leaders like Read to Succeed working to “make equity with the programs that we have and impacting the people who live in the communities we want to impact.”


Jackson goes on to say, “I know it wouldn’t be possible without Read to Succeed doing their part. Because they were community-led and community ran. Read to Succeed helps gives the staff and people working with the kids the tools to educate them.”


United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is proud to have been able to support PODS during those early days of the pandemic and to have been able to provide financial and in-kind support to the team at Christine Avery Learning Center and to our United for Youth partner, Read to Succeed over the years.


Don’t Stop There…

Learn more about Read to Succeed,  HERE

To learn more about United for Youth, Click HERE

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