Moore speaks, Dorchester locals respond to ENOUGH

By Debra R. Messick Dorchester Banner
Posted 2/19/24

Battling childhood poverty is not a new idea.

It is a familiar topic of concern for the seventy plus community members and local officials gathered to hear Gov. Wes Moore at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center Monday, February 12.

But Moore’s fresh approach in his proposed ENOUGH Act got their attention and some support.

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Moore speaks, Dorchester locals respond to ENOUGH


CAMBRIDGE -- Battling childhood poverty is not a new idea.

It is a familiar topic of concern for the seventy plus community members and local officials gathered to hear Gov. Wes Moore at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center Monday, February 12.

But Moore’s fresh approach in his proposed ENOUGH Act got their attention and some support.

The bill’s name has been invoked by Moore as a rallying cry for enabling communities most needing help to find solutions themselves, supported with targeted funding. It is also an acronym for Engaging Neighborhoods, Organizations, Unions, Governments, and Households.

Moore came to Cambridge, Dorchester’s county seat, representing one of the state’s four and Eastern Shore’s two poorest, to promote passage of the Bill, which seeks grassroots input from community partners and stakeholders to identify and address their area’s most critical needs.

If passed, the Act will zero in on communities plagued by disproportionately high numbers of children living in poverty whether they be in urban, suburban, or rural areas with place-based solutions.

The state will offer competitive grant funding totaling up to $10 million annually to “communities showing an ability to assess existing pathways to success, coordinate across sectors, and address challenges strategically and in a holistic manner,” according to the Governor’s office.

Cambridge Mayor Stephen W. Rideout, one of several speakers invited to address the gathering, thanked Moore for “his leadership and vision.”

“I see this legislation as the cornerstone of the kind of change that I have hoped to see since moving to Maryland almost 14 years ago,” said Rideout. “In terms of government approach, it’s a sea change.”

Rideout, a retired juvenile and family court judge who presided in Alexandria, Virginia, recalled a similar initiative enacted in that state, The Comprehensive Services Act, designed to “provide high quality, child centered, family focused, cost effective, community-based services to high-risk youth and their families,” according to the Virginia Department of Education website.

Rideout pointed to several successful local programs which had an enormous impact in reducing numbers of at-risk youth entering the legal system, among them, Alexandria Tutoring Consortium and Space of Her Own.

The nonprofit ATC successfully recruits and trains volunteers to teach reading to kindergarten, first, and second grader struggling public school students, with the goal of helping each reach grade level reading expectations by years’ end. The group partners with Alexandria City Public Schools, local businesses and community organizations, and the city’s faith-based community.

Using art, carpentry, and STEM skills, nonprofit Space of Her Own (SOHO) operates two programs, each comprised of thirteen fifth grade girls, but provides participants and mentors with ongoing support throughout Middle School. SOHO has forged partnerships with Alexandria city government, schools, nonprofits, and other entities using creativity to help girls make positive, healthy choices for a fulfilling life.

Rather than asking local groups to apply for static, state-mandated grants with a limited life span, the Virginia Law helped localities tailor programs to help specifically identified community needs, enabling access to funding streams, Rideout explained. From his vantage point on the bench, he was able to see how such programs helped immensely in getting services to at risk kids, helping keep them out of the legal system.

Though focusing on disrupting entrenched, intergenerational childhood poverty cycles, the ENOUGH Act resonated with Rideout immediately.

“Listening to people in meetings, you often hear, ‘we get grants, but they disappear,’ or, instead of outlaying funds, they reimburse spending, which people around here can’t afford to do,” Rideout added.

Additional speakers offered statistics supporting the local significance of ENOUGH’s proposed aims.

Gabe Butler, Manager, Boys & Girls Clubs at Leonards Lane, located adjacent to one of the highest at-risk neighborhoods in Cambridge, noted that “within a three-mile radius of the Boys & Girls Club, 52 percent of residents live at or below Dorchester County’s median household income.”

“Like many small towns, the challenges faced in Dorchester County, and specifically Cambridge, are generational and impact youth. But through the state’s investment, we continue to see progress for our youth and their families,” Butler added.

According to Cheryl Bost, President of the Maryland State Education Association, “In Dorchester County, nearly 90 percent of students receive free and reduced meals, a historical indicator of a child living in poverty—the third highest of any jurisdiction in the state.”

“As educators, we know that poverty, particularly concentrated poverty, brings all types of challenges, traumas, and obstacles to success in the classroom. We are excited to see the Governor scale up the support needed around the state to address the cycle of generational poverty that burdens children, families, and communities,” Bost added.

Pam Allen, born and raised locally, currently serves as Executive Director of Mid-Shore Meals Til Monday, a Maryland Food Bank partner providing food packages primarily tasked with helping kids stay fed while not in school. She was among those invited to participate in the round table discussion convened by Moore which followed.

Allen admitted to feeling “energized” by the ENOUGH Act’s holistic aims and goals, and excited for the bill’s passage, while being open to learning more about it.

“I am in food; that is what we do on any given day. But while we specifically focus on children, we fully realize that they are part of a family—siblings, mom, aunt, granny—often all needing food, too,” Allen added.

“In doing just my little bit, I deal with other problems facing the community. For instance, in having to deliver the food I realize that transportation is an issue, as are the root causes of hunger, such as the lack of jobs or insufficient salaries of jobs,” Allen noted.

She appreciated hearing perspectives from other people in the room, including one person pointing out that in addition to Cambridge, there are a lot of other people in the county, in the northern and southern parts, that are in dire need of help, too.

“It was almost like a lightbulb went off in people’s heads,” Allen added. She was also encouraged that Moore made it a point to stay and listen to one of several students attending the meeting, who urged him to keep in mind that all youngsters are different, and that he should try and hear from more of them to know what they need.

Afterwards, Republican Tom Hutchinson, Maryland State Delegate for District 37B, including Dorchester, Caroline, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties), offered his own commentary on the democratic Governor’s presentation.

“Generational poverty is a sad reality that is affecting too many families and children in Cambridge and throughout the state. I applaud Governor Moore for being passionate about addressing the issue. I truly wonder if $15 million is enough to address the enormity of the problem which is affecting our schools, our streets, and the health and wellbeing of children and families across the district,” Hutchinson stated.

“It needs to be more than just government. It has to be a community led effort that will take many stakeholders. However, the dollars invested by the state need to be monitored and accountable for results. We cannot just hand out money and hope to get results,” he added.

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