A finalist for a $25,000 national grant needs online votes from the public to help local, at-risk students find stable housing.

Of 2,000 applicants nationwide, judges with the State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant program have advanced 200 proposals, including a plan by Akron Hope to build community connections through student mentoring, tutoring and other volunteer services then use those connections to help families find secure housing in a transient neighborhood full of rental properties.

The public can go online at neighborhoodassist.com through Aug. 23 to browse and vote for each of the 200 proposals. The top 40 vote getters each get $25,000. Participants can vote 10 times a day from as many email addresses as they wish to create.

Akron Hope, housed in the Middlebury neighborhood’s Well Community Development Corporation, has worked for four years with more than 120 Akron Public Schools teachers to reach 3,000 elementary students through tutoring, mentoring, Christmas toy drives, community meals and more.

The focus is on building relationships, involving the community and listening to teachers’ needs, said founder Jen Vliet.

About a year ago, Vliet met with Zac Kohl from the Well CDC, which is focused on stabilizing the community by increasing homeownership rates in one of Akron’s poorest neighborhoods. Three in four homes are not owner-occupied. And nearly half of households live on less than $20,000 annually, according to statistics from the city of Akron.

The effects of poverty spill into the classroom. At nearby Mason Elementary, when Akron Hope has been volunteering, 61 percent of students move at least once each school year. Forty of the school’s 290 students were either homeless or living with another family last year, said Principal Angela Harper.

High student mobility tends to track low test scores. And it’s not unusual for a child to begin and end the school year at Mason after moving, said Harper.

“It really affects the children who are moving in and out,” Harper said. Relationships with peers and teachers are disrupted, broken and reset. Teachers must get to know their students all over again in the middle of the school year.

For the children, “it breaks up that feeling of security when they’re moving from place to place,” Harper said.

Harper, who serves on the board of the Well, said Akron Hope has been “a blessing” for her students.

Kohl said the grant money would support community engagement to help families in need access the Well CDC’s housing assistance programs, which include help dealing with landlords or lowering monthly rent to making home repairs and buying homes.

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.