In Roanoke, urban renewal has fueled economic growth and resulted in higher concentrations of poverty within two quadrants of the city. Roanoke’s leaders are using a “whole-of-government” approach to confront this challenge. Their strategy seeks to combine the efforts of city government departments, community members, and both new and existing partnerships to improve the educational, occupational and health trajectories of those who live in public housing throughout Roanoke. This approach connects governmental agencies with community partners at public housing-dense locations to provide resource hubs to meet the needs of residents. Examples of partners connected through these hubs include grocery stores, Goodwill, public libraries, senior living centers and public parks.
Across Roanoke, community hubs have played a central role in distribution of various resources to community members in need. Educational initiatives such as Star City Reads have used hubs in Northwest Roanoke – a community historically underserved and isolated – to give books to children and connect families with educational opportunities, day care and library programs. These library programs have been critical not only in ensuring access to books for children and families in public housing, but also in offering STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programs, free meals and a safe place to spend time with other children. Utilizing these hubs, additional partners like the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and the Mill Mountain Zoo have introduced programs in music and animal learning to children who live in public housing. Beyond education, these hubs continue to shape the landscapes of resources available to those in public housing. One example lies in mental health services, a need that the COVID-19 pandemic uncovered among children and families throughout Roanoke, especially within marginalized communities. Through collaboration with neighborhood organizations, faith-based groups and other initiatives such as Kids Soar, the City of Roanoke has used community hubs within its whole-of-government approach to deliver mental health resources to those in need.
Feeding Southwest Virginia
In partnership with the Star City Reads program, Feeding Southwest Virginia has enabled more than 197,000 meals to be served at public libraries in underserved communities in Roanoke since 2014. These meals have been complemented by nutrition classes, meal production training for adults, and youth meals served and coordinated through the Feeding Southwest Virginia Community Solutions Center. Building on these efforts, Feeding Southwest Virginia collaborated with Roanoke’s Public Library System to implement a children’s farmers’ market, where kids can pick out produce and learn about nutrition, and it is developing further connections between impoverished communities in public housing and grocery stores to encourage nutritious and healthy food options.