Transportation, homelessness and food insecurity are just a few things keeping children from achieving in school in Alachua County.
To combat these problems, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County was approved by voters in 2018. The Trust operates as an independent special taxing district. It strives to serve children until they are 18 with programs and services built to help them and their families thrive in the community.
The trust is nearing the end of its first fiscal year. Its board met with the Gainesville City Commission on Wednesday night to discuss the program’s future and how the city could help meet the needs of children and their families in Alachua County.
Creating interconnected programming continues to be a goal. With limited funding, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County looks to work with other established organizations and programs to keep children healthy, educated, nurtured and safe.
“This community has invested deeply into our children and our youth, but I think we are really beginning to mature our systemic approach to addressing all of our young people,” City Commissioner David Arreola said.
Transportation continues to be a problem for students and their families as they struggle to get to and from work, school and extracurricular activities. Commission members believed that the Regional Transit System (RTS) could help fill that transportation gap for families and their children.
“We operate a large, highly effective and growing more agile all the time regional transit system,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.
Along with the regular routes offered by RTS, the city also started the First Mile/Last Mile project in 2019. The program consists of vans that drive people to and from major bus stops. The city implemented the program to decrease the constraints stopping people from using public transportation. If people can easily make it to a bus stop, they are more likely to take the bus.
“When we started that, I think over 50% of the ridership were students. That really surprised us. We didn’t think those would be the primary users,” Poe said, “Our ultimate goal is to have that type of system in place throughout the city.”
Other than transportation, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County is also looking to collaborate on summer education and activity programs for children in the county. The Trust aims to create or supplement programs for elementary and middle school children that will give them positive summer experiences and maintain their reading skills.
To create these programs, trust trust began working with the Youth Develop Research-Practice Partnership to perform a summer needs assessment that will find the locations of past summer services and identify gaps between what they offer and what the community needs.
“The intent would be not only to give them some experiences in the summer that provide a safe place for them to be, but enriching experiences that also give them an opportunity to focus on reading over the summer and preventing summer skill loss,” Colin Murphy, the Executive Director of The Children’s Trust of Alachua County, said.
The trust appointed Murphy as executive director in January. He previously worked for the Children’s Home Society of Florida, and he was selected out of a pool of 56 applicants.
A mosaic of programs exists within Alachua County to help support children and their families. However, these programs are operated by different agencies, even if they have overlapping goals. By consolidating resources and planning, the Gainesville City Commission and the trust hope to offer a better service network.
“Cross-governmental agency contact really does offer a huge opportunity for us to change how we do the work we do,” Dr. Maggie Labarta, Vice Chair of the Children’s Trust of Alachua County, said.
Besides the Alachua County School Board, Gainesville city government is one of the largest youth programming providers. As the Children’s Trust of Alachua County moves forward with planning for future years, it hopes to foster interagency dependence within community programs.