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Community Cohort Stories

Communities Supporting Schools expands its reach in Wayne County

An elementary school student reads a book alongside a high school student.
Carver Elementary fourth grader Rico and his reading buddy Melek have been working together on reading skills for the past two years, and Rico will continue to receive reading support in the fall at Mt. Olive Middle School. CSS believes continuous support is the key to long-term success.

Communities Supporting Schools (CSS) of Wayne County has spent the past year expanding its current efforts to serve students and taking critical steps to ensure its long-term sustainability. Through the collaborative efforts of its staff, volunteers and community partners, CSS has deepened its impact for students in Wayne County.

CSS has expanded its three successful reading programs, increasing the number of volunteers and students served. Recognizing the critical role of early intervention, CSS believes that supporting children in their formative years will foster their success throughout their educational journey.

“We feel like if we can catch those kids early on and help them with their reading, that is only going to increase their potential as they go through elementary, middle and high school,” said CSS Executive Director Selena Bennett.

As part of its restorative justice programming, CSS is adding a new initiative to provide arts education for at-risk youth. Art Execute will begin this summer, with an initial focus on theater programming. Bennett hopes to be able to expand the arts programming in the future to include music, dance and other activities that help young adults find their voice and grow their confidence.

The organization’s participation in the Institute for Emerging Issues’ (IEI) Educational Attainment community cohort has opened new doors for CSS. IEI supported the development of a new strategic plan, outlining CSS’s long- and short-term goals. Bennett credits this strategic plan with leading them to a substantial grant from the SECU Foundation to support its mission development and long-term sustainability.

A group of people stand on the steps of a building, holding up a large decorative check.
CSS was recently awarded a $40,000 mission development grant from the SECU Foundation.

“With our strategic planning that we’ve already done, and now with the fundraising and resource development planning that we’re getting ready to start on, I think we will have a solid foundation for our sustainability,” said Bennett.

Being part of the cohort also reaffirmed Bennett’s belief in the power of collaboration between like-minded organizations.

“I think you are stronger when you are working together in a collaborative atmosphere,” said Bennett. “You can accomplish so much more.”

Communities Supporting Schools of Wayne County is one of five community-based organizations chosen by IEI as part of the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum community cohort on educational attainment in NC.