It may sound strange, but David Reese, president and chief executive officer of the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI), isn’t interested in helping children escape their impoverished neighborhood: “I want this to be the kind of place that people don’t want to escape from. I want to change people’s way of thinking so that they’re not desperate to get away from here – they’re desperate to come back after they’ve completed their education, to help make this a more vibrant community.”
David – honored BCBSNC as a Community Champion during this Month of Thanks – sees himself as a “traffic cop” of community services in the 120-block area served by EDCI, a community agency that aims to help children successfully graduate from high school, fully prepared for college or a career. “We want to do things the Durham way,” he explains. “That means bringing together the agencies and the people who are good at what they do and putting them in a pipeline within a geographic area in need. Let’s all agree to set aside ego and put kids first.”
EDCI’s partners span a broad spectrum of services, from early childhood interventions, parent and family support, after-school and summer programs, literacy assistance, health and nutrition services, arts programs and community outreach.
Since David took on his leadership role at EDCI, the agency’s 1.2 square-mile service area has seen significant positive change, with test scores and other measures on the rise. “When EDCI started implementing programs in 2011, this neighborhood was #1 on the kinds of lists that nobody wants to top: crime, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect,” David says. “We knew that education was the key to creating opportunities for success and leadership. The first step in creating those opportunities is making sure children are healthy and ready to learn.”
The EDCI team knows that’s more difficult than it sounds. “This process takes a lot of work by a lot of people,” David says. “But the poverty cycle isn’t inevitable. Just because you grow up poor doesn’t mean that’s your destiny – I don’t care what the research says.”
David and the staff of EDCI aren’t deterred by the task facing them. In fact, David relishes the challenge: “You should wake up every morning excited to go to work. If you aren’t, you should question why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Congratulations to Community Champion David Reese of Durham. To find out how you can help EDCI through a donation or volunteering, visit http://edci.org/donate/.