The Children’s Trust of Alachua County just passed the two-year mark since its creation, and the faith voters placed in its leadership is starting to produce results.
The initial visibility of its most prominent efforts so far will appear in the coming months, when it helps to add more summer programming in the county at a cost of $500,000. Couple that with its pledge to allocate $300,000 for matching fund requests from local non-profit organizations, and county taxpayers will soon see how this slice of local property tax revenue is being spent.
“We have four main goals,” Trust Executive Director Colin Murphy said, “and that’s basically to ensure that kids are healthy, educated, safe and supported.”
The trust is a special tax district approved by nearly 62% of voters in 2018. It consists of 10 board members who oversee the management of a one-half mill property tax that enables them to invest in the wellbeing of children.
The trust is currently working to show people why voting in favor of the trust was worth it.
Treasurer Tina Certain, who also serves on the Alachua County School Board, said the trust helps children with schooling, as well as health and wellness, while also acting as a diversion from the juvenile justice system.
“Originally, we set aside about $1.25 million for children’s issues and created a committee called the Children’s Service Advisory group,” Chair and former county commissioner Lee Pinkoson said. “We knew we could do more and that’s why we went for a tax initiative.”
Meetings are typically held on a monthly basis and during the February meeting, the trust sought to lay out tangible plans for the upcoming summer, including creating after-school programs for children. The University of Florida also had a presence in the meeting, thanks to Murphy, who showed what the school’s plans to help with the trust were.
Aside from regular meetings, there are also joint meetings with the Board of County Commissioners. According to Murphy, each year, the trust is to give an annual report to the Board of County Commissioners by Jan. 1 and put forward its millage and tentative budget by July 1. The latest quarterly meeting was in February, at which commissioners and board members discussed the summer plans and how the voters’ intentions from two years ago are coming clear in 2021.
“It was the county commission who voted to even have a Children’s Trust on the Ballot,” Murphy said. “The county staff did most of the work with getting the trust started after it was passed so they continuously show interest in how we are doing.”
Certain explained that there are already three existing programs that the trust is funding, which tackle social and emotional learning, as well as transformational and professional development for childcare workers and newborn nurse home-visiting programs. Certain said the board organized some one-time grants last year for after-school services and computer programming.
According to Murphy’s presentation at the last joint meeting, the trust started with proposals to serve up to 15,000 children. The trust ultimately decided to issue $300,000 for matching funds requests in order to increase state and private revenue opportunities this year. They hope this matching request will help gather new resources to benefit children across Alachua County.
Pinkoson explained at the trust meeting on Feb. 8 how the board created two new committees, one for ages 0-5 and another for ages 6-18.
“The committees will be in charge of actually coming up with suggestions for how we can improve upon the current system,” Pinkoson said.
Murphy said prior to this meeting, the trust had spoken with the Youth Development Research Practice Partnership to undertake a needs assessment of what the most pressing needs are for children and families in Alachua County during the summer. The next step, according to Murphy, would consist of bringing a proposal to the next general meeting in March to begin funding these recommendations.
According to Youth Development Research Practice Partnership Project Manager Diedre Houchen’s presentation during the meeting, in order to support both positive youth development and literacy, the Children’s Trust of Alachua County should partner with literacy experts and interventionists to permit providers to implement evidence-based literacy practices into a wide variety of summer programs. Furthermore, Houchen also provided some recommendations, such as subsidizing registration and other fees for parents according to families’ income levels and creating funding structures designed for low-income families.
Even though the trust is relatively new, tangible plans were put in to place at these last two meetings show the people of Alachua County that voting to put this trust in place can actually help children.
According to Murphy, after the trust was first established, the board gathered preliminary funding from the community, tried different services to see what worked best, and set up an infrastructure.
Murphy said during his presentation at the joint meeting that this infrastructure specifically emphasized four goals and operationalized those results with three to four indicators. For example, one of these statements is that all children are born healthy and remain healthy, which specifically refers to tackling birth weight, hospitalizations, STDs and food insecurity rates.
“For the rest of this year and next year, I would expect the trust to present ideas and solutions for some of the issues regarding health education, children’s safety and family support,” Murphy said.
Nonetheless, in-person programs have become a challenge for the Children’s Trust of Alachua County because of the pandemic. According to Certain, the board has been implementing virtual programs, such as online tutoring, to make the best of the situation during the health crisis.
This summer, Certain said the board hopes to fund in-person programs for kids to be on-site at providers.
“This summer, we hope to incorporate learning games into our programs and make up for learning losses during COVID-19,” Certain said.
Pinkoson said the Children’s Trust of Alachua County is ultimately aiming to break the cycle of poverty and provide more hope and opportunities for the children.
“We want to get the children what they need, make sure they can read and provide them with a safe environment,” Pinkoson said. “If we can do that, there will be less need for these programs because they will have gotten what they need.”