Within Pinellas County, the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority (TSHA) plays a pivotal role in managing and providing affordable housing, along with facilitating resident services that promote family stability and upward mobility for greater quality of life. In Tarpon Springs, as in many other communities, poverty consistently serves as a barrier to accessing the resources, connections and supports necessary for children to grow, thrive and become successful young adults. These barriers became especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when families who were already the most vulnerable faced seemingly insurmountable risks in health, education, housing and more. To break down these barriers and meet these challenges, TSHA collaborated with several governmental agencies and community partners in service of families, caregivers and children whose struggles in accessing affordable housing and other resources affect their education. Building on existing relationships, these partnerships have transformed TSHA’s response to community crises and have delivered countless positive community outcomes.
Cops n’ Kids
Founded in 1996, the Cops n’ Kids program has evolved from a mentorship program between the Tarpon Springs Police Department and the Local Community Housing Corporation (LCHC) into a multifaceted community resource that emphasizes support for at-risk children and their families. Cops n’ Kids is a licensed child care center through the Pinellas County Licensing Board and the Department of Children and Families with a capacity to serve 75 families. First and foremost, Cops n’ Kids focuses on childhood education initiatives. This ranges from daily after-school programming, homework assistance, and formal 1:1 and small group tutoring for children most in need. STEAM educational opportunities that accompany community service, field trips and alternative learning opportunities complement daily programming. On a monthly basis, programming includes organic gardening, career exploration, performing arts, leadership, team building and education about cultural diversity. When youth participants require additional assistance, Cops n’ Kids offers extensive help through academic tutoring programs that involve families and caregivers to support their children. Beyond solely educational-related services, Cops n’ Kids also takes an active role in combating food insecurity. Thanks to support from Feeding Tampa Bay, food distribution expanded from only ensuring children in the program received food during the week to bringing food, toiletries and other household goods to dozens of families. These supports were especially important during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which families continued to receive resources while all Cops n’ Kids programming shifted to a virtual environment. Cops n’ Kids assists families and caregivers through not only delivering resources and academic support, but also providing positive role modeling for children and establishing stronger relationships between police officers and community members. These relationships play a critical role in ensuring community wellness and solidarity amidst the continuing challenges of the COVID pandemic and as TSHA moves forward in assisting at-risk communities.