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Initiative aims to heal city's 'broken' families

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Posted at 8:39 AM, Oct 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-14 08:39:47-04

CINCINNATI – Dwight Young has been part of more meetings than he can count in the 17 years since he founded BLOC Ministries on Cincinnati's West Side.

The intentions behind the gatherings have been good, he told me – helping kids, reducing violence and attacking poverty. But, as far as he can tell, the proposed solutions haven't made much of a dent in any of it.

So Young wants to try something completely different. He wants to address all those problems at once with what he figures might be the hardest work of all: Helping parents be better and more effective moms and dads.

To do that, Young and Cincinnati Police Officer Louis Arnold have invited faith leaders from Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods to gather Wednesday and help launch a new, citywide initiative called "Parent Me."

"We are really trying to target the parents so that we help the kids," said Young, director of BLOC Ministries. "We're all broken – let's be honest. So this is coming together as a team and community to say, 'How can we help each other?'"

The plan is for faith leaders from throughout the city to meet to discuss the initiative from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in East Price Hill.

Young is hoping a handful of leaders will emerge from the group – maybe five or six – who will help him spread the word and build support.

The goal is to launch the program in January and encourage local church, synagogue and mosque leaders to reach out to the parents in their community and work alongside them to build stronger families. Young wants faith leaders to commit to the idea for a year. Ultimately, he would like to see it continue for five years because he knows it will take time to make a difference across the city.

The scope of the problem is huge.

Cincinnati's overall poverty rate is 30 percent, according to the 2014 U.S. Census American Community Survey released in September. The poverty rate among the city's children is even higher: More than 44 percent of children under the age of 18 in Cincinnati are poor.

And in Cincinnati, two out of every three children living in poverty live with single mothers, according to research from The Women's Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

 When those moms are working third shift or two jobs to try to support their families, that can mean older children are left to care for their younger brothers and sisters.

Young told me it's not uncommon for him to find young children running around outside as late as 11 p.m. during warm months with no supervision.

"In some areas, there are kids in diapers just running the streets," he said.

"Parent Me" does not aim to replace parents or do the difficult work of being a mom or dad for the parents who should be doing it.

And it's not designed to replace the good work that local schools, recreational centers and other organizations are doing to provide activities and support for kids and their families.

Young doesn't even expect the same strategies to work in every neighborhood, he said. And he certainly doesn’t want anyone to tell parents what to do.

Rather, he wants faith leaders to walk alongside parents, show them what it means to be a nurturing parent with effective discipline and how to foster the kinds of routines and structure kids need.

"We believe that the foundational answer is to strengthen the family," he said.

Arnold, who is the Cincinnati Police Department's faith-based community liaison, believes the program will help reduce violence in the city's neighborhoods, too.

"It's getting this solved on the front end so you're not dealing with kids on the bad end," he said. "What we deal with in law enforcement is just the disrespect. And we know that comes from home."

Young and Arnold stressed they know this work won't be easy. They're hoping to reach both parents who are religious and those who aren't.

"It's going to look pretty messy, to be honest with you," Young said.

And he knows strategies that work in East Price Hill might not work in Avondale or Madisonville.

"It's going to look 100 different ways," he said.

When I met with Young and Arnold Monday morning to discuss the initiative, Arnold had about 30 faith leaders committed to attend the meeting Wednesday and was hoping to get more.

There are bound to be stops and starts and struggles along the way. But Young feels in his heart that it's the right approach. He argues that kids want discipline, structure and routine.

That sure rings true for me as a mom.

"You can't program your way out of it. You can't arrest your way out of it. You can't rec center your way out of it," Young said.

He's betting that Cincinnati can parent its way out of it, though. For our city and its children, let's all hope he's right.

To learn more about BLOC Ministries, click here or go to http://blochead.org.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO this year.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.