LEWISTON — A Lewiston school subcommittee has secured $25,000 in grants and donations to send a dozen people to a three-day workshop at the nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, center, works with students on an exercise during a visit at the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy II in New York on Oct. 20, 2011. AP Photo/Craig Ruttle/pool

School and city officials, educators, community representatives and others will head down in January.

The Lewiston group hopes some of the Harlem Children Zone’s initiatives, which include new baby classes for parents, year-round prekindergarten, specialized after-school programs, college support and other programs, can be adapted to address generational poverty here.

“We need to stop putting band-aids on the results of poverty,” said School Committee Chairman Mark Cayer, who came up with the idea to send a Lewiston team to Harlem. “We really, truly need to deal with it at the root cause.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone began as a pilot program to help one city block in the 1990s. It expanded in 2000 with more and bigger programs and an ultimate plan to cover 97 blocks. Today, the nonprofit serves 14,000 children and 14,000 adults, with the goal of lifting whole neighborhoods out of poverty through comprehensive social services, education, health care and seamless support from birth through college.

“They’re seeing that if we treat poverty with a holistic approach that generational poverty can be broken,” Cayer said. “That’s the key: generational poverty. Many folks are just stuck in poverty because no one’s taught them how to get out.”


The Harlem Children’s Zone has become a model for other communities. Each year, it selects a number of delegations to attend in-depth, on-site workshops to get a closer look at its programs.

Cayer learned about the Harlem Children’s Zone from community advocate Shanna Cox. In February, he proposed that a Lewiston team attend one of those workshops. The School Committee agreed and formed the Poverty Awareness Subcommittee.

At the time, Cayer said no taxpayer money would be used to pay for the trip. The group has since received a $15,000 grant from the John. T. Gorman Foundation, $5,000 from Geiger and $5,000 from community members.

The Lewiston team includes school and city officials, educators, representatives from area nonprofits, community activists and others. Cayer will not be part of the team.

“I don’t want to take a seat at the table when we can put an educator at the table who is really, truly going to be dealing with these students,” Cayer said. “That’s not my profession. I have no expertise, and I just felt it was really important that we send the best qualified people in our community or some of the brightest people in our community that truly are going to be able to make a difference in the long run.”

The team will tour Harlem Children’s Zone programs and facilities from Jan. 15-17. They are expected to bring back ideas that could be adapted and implemented in Lewiston.

“We’re going to make a difference, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Cayer said.

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