At the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, we are working to improve the quality of life for residents in Forsyth County by supporting efforts to address systemic health, education, and economic challenges. We focus on people with low incomes and communities of color because we know these residents experience the greatest disparities in access and opportunity.
We do this in partnership with community organizations, increasing the power and reach of courageous leaders working to reconnect youth to educational and career opportunities, and improving the birth and maternal health outcomes for Black mothers and their babies.
We spoke with grantees James Perry, president & CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League; Regina Hall, executive director of Boston-Thurmond United; and Trust senior program officer Shenell McClurkin Thompson, about the work ahead.
Reconnecting Youth to Jobs and Education in Forsyth County
Nearly 33% of the 90,000 youth ages 16-24 in our county are not enrolled in public or private education, and 5% are unemployed, according to Measure of America.
That’s why the Trust is supporting Say So, a project of the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, and the Urban League through our Inclusive Economy initiative. These community organizations are addressing the root causes of poverty and inequity in Forsyth County and developing sustainable strategies to reconnect youth to education and employment opportunities. Here’s an update from our conversation with the Urban League.
Talking with James Perry, President & CEO
Winston-Salem Urban League
What’s the goal of your work?
“In Forsyth County we’re seeing more students not finishing high school or not matriculating to secondary education, and fewer young people enrolling in the workforce. Nationally, there is a similar trend that shows that young people ages 16 to 24 are becoming more and more disconnected from employment opportunities.
We began to notice this at the Urban League through our summer youth employment program. Before the pandemic, we had 120 kids in the program. For the first year of the pandemic, we only enrolled 40 students.
To address this issue more broadly, we sought to figure out why these youth are disconnected and if we could come up with systemic solutions to reconnect them to education and career opportunities.”
What will success look like when you achieve your goal?
“We want to ensure young people don’t miss out. Right now, employers in Forsyth County are willing to hire and train candidates. We need to help youth understand what the jobs are and how to prepare for them. For example, youth do not need the perfect certificate or a higher education background to get a good job here, but they do need to be informed, supported, and trained by the system.”
What have you learned through conversations with young people?
“For our Reconnecting Youth in Forsyth County report, we held focus groups with young people — ages 16–18 and 19–24 — to identify the problems and challenges they face.
What we found was young people lacked access to role models and proper support to succeed. They felt that the necessary information wasn’t available to them. They also expressed feeling pressure to avoid failure. We learned that we need to teach them about resilience; each failure is a lesson for your future successes.”
How will your work help change the system and reconnect youth in Forsyth County?
“One key part of our strategy is to help organizations change the way we communicate. What we learned in our survey is that organizations serving youth and young people are using different tools to communicate, and practically speaking different languages! We need to meet youth where they are, in the places they congregate virtually and physically, using language they can connect with, so we can support them on their path toward educational and career opportunities.
Improving Health Outcomes for Mothers and Babies in Forsyth County
Supporting the health and well-being of mothers and their young children is critical for helping children grow up to succeed in school and life.
Unfortunately, the infant mortality rate for Black children is still nearly three times higher than the mortality rate for white children. At the Trust, we know that access to care for Black mothers is critical in addressing this issue. That’s why we are investing in local efforts by organizations like Boston Thurman United, to understand root causes and develop community-based solutions.
Talking with Regina Hall, Executive Director
Can you describe the goal of your Birth Stories project?
“Forsyth County Birth Stories invites community members to come together to share their birth stories, strengthen their voices, and identify opportunities to improve birth outcomes of Black and Brown residents in the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood and surrounding communities in Forsyth County.
To date, we have conducted three storytelling sessions engaging 23 local Black and Brown women who shared their birth stories with one another. Many participants reflected that they had never experienced an opportunity to be heard like this.”
How will this work ultimately improve birth and postpartum outcomes?
“Through the storytelling process, we are identifying themes, opportunities, and potential solutions for improving birth and postpartum outcomes. Through the work, we intentionally elevate and navigate issues of power and intersectionality. We’re centering the voices and stories of women of color and ensuring the work is designed and supported by Black and Brown local women and close allies.”
How have these stories impacted the community?
“We knew sharing stories would be a meaningful way to create change in the community, but we didn’t realize just how powerful the experience would be for our team and the participants.
Recognizing that some birth experiences are traumatic, we chose to expand our core team to include a local licensed clinical therapist. She helps us intentionally create a healing environment as a container for all storytelling and acknowledges current and historical trauma. Additionally, she’s supported some participants after our community sharing sessions.“
What are your next steps and what are you learning?
“Early learnings in this project emphasize the critical nature of co-designing with people closest to the challenge. Leaders and members of the Boston-Thurmond community are leading decisions on structure, timing, and support needed for community sessions.
They’re eager for the next phase of the project, and we look forward to continuing our work and engaging the community.”
Talking with Shenell Thompson, Senior Program Officer, Local Impact in Forsyth County,
Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
We also spoke with Shenell Thompson to discuss why the Trust revised our Great Expectations strategy to include maternal as well as child health, increase access to maternal health care, and address adverse childhood experiences and the impacts of toxic stress.
“As a Black mother of two adult daughters, it’s important to me that there is a community where my daughters are safe to deliver babies.
Statistics show that Black infants are dying at a disproportionate rate in Forsyth County and across the nation. The same is true for maternal deaths in North Carolina.
When we think about how we can improve outcomes in Forsyth County, we have to ensure that expectant Black mothers make it to birth and that children are born healthy and ready to thrive.
As a mother hoping to become a grandmother, I want to ensure my daughters’ bodies are safe when they give birth. We should celebrate that children are meeting all of their developmental milestones. I want first year birthday celebrations to focus on babies meeting developmental milestones instead of beating infant mortality rates.”