Despite a thriving Mercedes economy, in 1998 the number of families living in poverty in Tuscaloosa was not declining. Concern for this issue prompted three volunteer task forces to examine this aspect of community life. Each task force was organized to focus on a particular set of concerns. The Challenge 21 Education Task Force explored issues related to improving pre-K readiness. The Junior League of Tuscaloosa examined ways to strengthen and focus their advocacy of young children. The United Way’s Task Force for Self-Sufficiency examined the impact of Welfare-to-Work on TANF recipients and their families.
Many problems were identified. For example, task force members learned that 30-35% of Tuscaloosa’s first graders in both the city and county schools were academically at risk when they began school, and many never overcame their developmental lag. Furthermore, despite the favorable job market, high schools in both school systems experienced a +20% dropout rate. After in-depth analysis of the problem, each task force concluded that if the community was serious about improving high school graduation rates and reducing the number of households living below poverty level, it had to muster additional resources for young children and their families.
Realizing the extraordinary cooperation and collaboration required in starting a Family Resource Center, the Junior League of Tuscaloosa, Challenge 21, and the United Way of West Alabama Welfare Reform Task Force agreed to merge their efforts and to focus on the eastern section of Tuscaloosa (Alberta City/Holt), a notably under-served area. In June 1999, the East Tuscaloosa Family Resource Center began serving families.
Initial funding was obtained through a variety of grants and local contributions. Initial funders included the City of Tuscaloosa, Junior League of Tuscaloosa, Venture grant with the United Way of West Alabama, Children’s Trust Fund, Alabama Civil Justice Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation, Bloom Foundation, and other smaller public and private contributions. Subsequent funders included the Tuscaloosa County Commission, contracts with the City and County School system and the Department of Human Resources.
During the last few years, the funding base has consistently grown to include both federal and state grants, local government support, contract services and private contributions. In 2002, the Center dropped the “East” from its name to more clearly reflect the work done throughout the community. In late 2005, the agency became Tuscaloosa’s One Place, a Family Resource Center; thereby depicting the “one place” families can come to receive services. Through a dedicated effort between TOP staff and its community partners, the Family Resource Center has made a difference in the lives of local families. We are continuing to examine the needs of the community and work to find innovative ways to make a difference.