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Orange County's anti-poverty program zeroes in on downtown Chapel Hill

More than 20 Orange County officials and residents came together Thursday to brainstorm strategies for reducing poverty.

The kickoff meeting was the first of many needs-assessment sessions for the Family Success Alliance anti-poverty program created last year. 

The Family Success Alliance Advisory Council, a group of 22 representatives from local governments and non-profit organizations across the county, hopes to lower the rates of child poverty in Orange County through grassroots outreach and action.

In December, the council decided to target its efforts in Zone 4 and Zone 6 of Orange County. That progress continued with the kickoff meeting, which focused on the needs of Zone 6.

Zone 4 is located between Interstate 40 and Interstate 85, while Zone 6 covers the area from downtown Chapel Hill southwest to N.C. 54.

Stacy Shelp, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Department, said the meetings will identify where the cracks are in the system and determine the best strategies for fixing those cracks.

“The common goal will obviously meet the needs for specific zones, but then reach out to other zones to provide different support so we don’t see kids falling through the cracks,” she said.

Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils said the program will more effectively coordinate social services to increase access to education, food and health care for lower-income residents of Orange County. 

“We are in the phase where we are figuring out what the needs are so we can decide what to do next,” Seils said.

Meredith McMonigle, Family Success Alliance project coordinator, said the data collection is a participatory process. 

“We don’t want to come in as outsiders — we are inviting the community to participate in this process,” she said.

Shelp said the needs assessment phase is expected to take two to three months.

“It’s going to be fast, and we want to get it moving quickly in an impactful way,” she said.

Members of the community can give input by coming to needs-assessment sessions, including the Zone 4 session tonight from 5 to 6:15 p.m. at A. L. Stanback Middle School in Hillsborough.

Earl McKee, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said the county is at a good starting point.

“Any effort that Orange County can make towards ensuring the success of our residents is something we are all obligated to look at,” he said.

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