“She always puts us before her,” Demetria’s 14-year-old daughter says with obvious pride as she looks over at her mom. Demetria is the single mother of two growing teenagers, Marciyah, 14 years old, and DJ, her 17-year-old son.
“It’s just me and my paycheck that pays for everything,” Demetria says. She works at a local hotel chain as a supervisor making “more than minimum wage, but less than living wage.” Even with nearly full-time hours she is unable to pay for the basic necessities such as food, clothing, and housing for herself and her two children. “It’s insane. The cost of living is so much higher than the wages.”
I first learned about Demetria and her family when she came into the Children First/Communities In Schools Family Resource Center at Emma Elementary School to get a food box. Her family’s story is just one of many across Buncombe County and North Carolina — hard working parents struggling to make ends meet.
As executive director of Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, I know food boxes aren’t enough to give families the support they need to become financially stable — the problems are systemic and the needs are too great. Right now, over half of the children in public schools in Buncombe County receive free or reduced lunch meaning their families don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs. Needs like food, warm clothes, heat, or school supplies. Students like Marciyah and DJ.
That’s why we also lead our community in public policy advocacy for children. And it’s why I serve on the board of directors of NC Child, which works at the state-level to promote public policy that benefits children in Buncombe County and beyond.
Put together, all the nonprofits in Buncombe County (and there are a lot of them!) can’t provide child care or health care to all the children who need those critical services. But we can push for public policies that ensure all children have health care and all families have access to affordable child care.
Most of these issues are decided in Raleigh by our legislators in the General Assembly over four hours away from the beautiful mountains of Asheville. This geographic distance is one of the reasons we partner with NC Child. NC Child has advocates walking the halls of the legislative building daily sharing real stories of the struggling families we work with.
NC Child works with local organizations across the state, including Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, to have a united voice. NC Child is able to be in the legislative building while Children First/Communities In Schools mobilizes citizens of Buncombe County to ask our legislators to do what we know is right for children based on NC Child’s research.
Having this strong partnership makes it easier to be hopeful when hope seems hard to come by for the people we serve. We see every day in the real world how government policies affect people, and we understand what needs to be done to help all neighborhoods become safe and prosperous, all people become healthy and have a chance for a good job.
I believe that all children in North Carolina should have the opportunity to thrive and meet their full potential. I know that the work of Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County and NC Child will help my belief become reality.