Bill Grant, director of adult education in Lewiston, and Farwell Elementary Principal Amanda Winslow talk during a session with Harlem Children’s Zone executives. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — It appears there is real momentum within the community to bring to Lewiston some of the lessons from an anti-poverty program in Harlem.

“We have an opportunity right now to do something,” Lewiston School Superintendent Todd Finn said.

“People are asking for change,” Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer said. “We want to take advantage of it.”

A dozen community leaders who explored the Harlem Children’s Zone program last month said they saw many things that might assist their efforts to take on generational poverty in a city with some of the poorest neighborhoods in the state.

Several mentioned they would like to see more collaboration between existing programs in the city, more reliance on data that would help clarify what works and what does not, greater emphasis on health and wellness and a new initiative to assist families with babies.

Finn said the school system is working on a new strategic plan to take effect this summer that “will allow a lot of these things to happen.”

Amanda Winslow, principal of Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Amanda Winslow, principal at Farwell Elementary School, one of the delegates who went to Harlem, said there are some missing pieces in Lewiston, but generally what is needed is to connect the dots between programs already serving the community and aligning their visions so that everyone has the same goals.

“We just need to collaborate,” said Monica Miller, prekindergarten coordinator for Lewiston Public Schools.

Peter Geiger, executive vice president of Geiger, said he witnessed in Harlem “a well-oiled machine” that brought everything under one organization to provide “a real consistency” in its approach from birth all the way through college.

Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, said that Lewiston has lots of resources, but “we all work in silos.”

It ought to be possible to work together better, she said.

Bobbi Avery, chief administrative officer for the Lewiston schools, said the offerings in Harlem “blew my socks off.”

“They are not operating in a silo,” she said. “They are all together on a team.”

Avery said Lewiston could do a lot to be more seamless in its approach, but it’s a challenge to align everyone’s missions when they’re not all under the same umbrella.

Geiger said one clear lesson is that ending generational poverty “isn’t just a school thing.”

Julia Sleeper, co-founder and executive director of Tree Street Youth Center, said some of what the Harlem nonprofit is doing is “super cool,” including having advocates for each child and a willingness to be so nimble and flexible to address needs.

“They flooded the community with positive change,” Winslow said.

Heidi McCarthy, economic development specialist for Lewiston, said the children’s zone use of data to refine programs, recruit staff, approach donors and assist kids impressed her.

It used the data, she said, not just to prove programs work, but to determine if they are doing as well as they could and how they might be revised.

Heidi McCarthy, economic development specialist for Lewiston, speaks with Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration, during a break at the Harlem Children’s Zone. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Using data thoughtfully, McCarthy said, can make programming more effective. It is something to consider in Lewiston, she and others said.

Officials who went on the trip to New York, which was funded privately, said two programs in particular — Healthy Harlem and Baby College — appeared to have the most potential to copy quickly.

Peter Geiger, executive vice president of Geiger Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Geiger, Miller and Betsy Norcross Plourde, executive director of Promise Early Education Center, said Baby College should be pursued.

Joe Philippon, a community resources officer for the Lewiston Police Department, said the low-hanging fruit that could be incorporated swiftly includes opening schools and other facilities more often for after-hours athletics.

Several of the Harlem visitors said they liked that the Harlem program offered small payments to children and family to get involved in programs.

Bill Grant, director of Lewiston adult education, said students are more apt to give something a try if they can pocket enough to pay for a monthly cellphone bill or the like.

He said he also liked its emphasis that students who participate should return to the community after college and “give back” for the chance they got.

“That’s an important thing because we want people to stay in Maine,” Grant said.

Monique Roy, chairwoman of the Lewiston School Committee, said she thinks it will be possible to secure funding for at least some initiatives, but does not expect to see success in defeating poverty anytime soon.

“We’re not going to rush it, but we have battles to fight,” Finn agreed.

“It’s not an instant payoff,” Roy said. “It’s a long road.”

The anti-poverty panel, which includes those who went to Harlem, plans to continue to meet regularly until its work is done.

Who went to Harlem: Peter Geiger, executive vice president of Geiger; Fowsia Musse, executive director of Maine Community Integration; Bobbi Avery, chief administrative officer for Lewiston Public Schools; Julia Sleeper, co-founder and executive director of Tree Street Youth Center; Monica Miller, pre-K coordinator for Lewiston Public Schools; Monique Roy, chairwoman of the Lewiston School Committee; Betsy Norcross Plourde, executive director of the Promise Early Education Center; Joe Philippon, Lewiston Police community resource officer; Heidi McCarthy, economic development specialist for the city of Lewiston; Amanda Winslow, principal at Farwell Elementary School; Bill Grant, Lewiston adult education director; and Steve Collins, the State House reporter for the Sun Journal.

A Harlem streetscape. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

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