There’s no single reason why poverty saturates the shores of Summit Lake.
“It is a tough neighborhood. It is really an impoverished neighborhood in Akron,” said Chris Yuhasz, director of Strategic Engagement for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority.
AMHA reports that one-third of Summit Lake residents lack transportation. Census data suggest that 27 percent never finished high school and that single mothers lead 70 percent of family households.
Unemployment there is more than double that of Akron overall. And nearly one in six residents — and one in four school-age children — lives in public housing.
These are dependent clients AMHA doesn’t want.
“We want to get rid of our customers in public housing. We’re not like other businesses,” Yuhasz said.
Since 2011, AMHA has convened about 15 local nonprofit and public sector agencies to tackle unemployment, poor health, mental illness, waning family supports and myriad other issues that drive poverty and depress the quality of life in the Summit Lake area.
Those efforts culminate Tuesday, when the Reach Opportunity Center, attached to Summit Lake Community Center (off West Crosier Street), opens.
The center, which hosts an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, marries education and social services.
Undereducated, and perhaps unemployed, adults can study for a GED while learning how to interview, talk in a professional manner and acknowledge their poverty.
Parents can enroll preschool-age children in year-round Head Start or kindergartners in a classroom staffed by educators from Akron Public Schools’ McEbright elementary.
Home visitations through AMHA’s comprehensive Early Learning Initiative — a program advised by the Summit Education Initiative, an education research firm — offer parents tips on effective teaching.
Yuhasz continues to work with Akron Superintendent David James and County Executive Russ Pry to expand opportunities, job-training programs and collaboration with higher education and the business community.
Inside the main entrance, facing Summit Lake, an open-ceiling hallway wraps around two public computer labs.
Light from a wall of windows overlooking the lake spills into a multi-purpose room with a cathedral ceiling. Leadership Akron, the Boys and Girls Club and other support organizations plan to use the meeting space to pitch services and educate the community.
Separate, fenced-in playgrounds buttress each of the children’s classrooms.
“It’s such a beautiful site,” said Head Start educational consultant Yu-Ling Yeh, who unpacked boxes Wednesday to furnish the four preschool classrooms.
Akron Summit Community Action strives to enroll roughly 50 students, from six weeks to 5 years old, in the preschool by September.
Akron Public Schools can fit 50 kindergartners in two classrooms.
AMHA plans to fill the rest of the space with nonprofit organizations providing social and educational services while giving priority to Summit Lake residents.
The housing authority, school district and preschool provider will shoulder ongoing maintenance and operating expenses, divvying up the bills in line with space used.
But Akron schools and AMHA have the most vested interest in sustaining the facility after they respectively pitched in $500,000 and $800,000 on top of a $4 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build the complex.
Yuhasz, under the direction of AMHA Executive Director Tony O’Leary, applied for the HUD grant and has secured a 90-year lease from the city for $1.
Educating a community
Kyle Putinski, a coordinator and instructor for Project Learn and Bridges Summit County, led a discussion Wednesday on poverty in one of two adult classrooms, filled mostly with Summit Lake residents seeking GEDs.
“I’m learning that in life you really can’t make it forward without education,” said Joy Gooden, 35, a participant and single mother who, until a year ago, lived in AMHA’s public housing adjacent to the center.
Gooden admitted she doesn’t speak well, though she can communicate just fine on the streets in her community.
She grew up in income-based housing.
“I didn’t know I was in poverty,” she said of her childhood.
“From being in poverty, the first thing you think about is a quick dollar.
At the end of the day, [however], that quick dollar can’t last forever.”
She dropped out of Kenmore High School at 16, not because she was pregnant, she said, but because priorities get scrambled when living in poverty.
She reflected on her childhood, forgoing her education and raising a sibling while taking care of an elderly grandparent.
“I was worried about my home,” she said.
Now, a generation later, her 18-year-old son is training to be a construction worker, though he’s struggling “to find himself” because “he doesn’t have a male in his life.” Gooden’s 11-year-old son, an honor roll student, warms her heart with ambitions of becoming an engineer and playing football in college.
It’s time for Gooden, she said while taking a break from Putinski’s lesson, to revisit her priorities.
“This time, I’m not going to stop,” she said.
Putinski said: “It’s like a light-bulb moment when they realize they are in poverty. I think that’s the first step to getting on your feet is realizing where you are.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.