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From Dayton Daily News -- Lebanon Schools use Technology to Fight Suburban Poverty

Lebanon schools use technology to fight suburban poverty

District teams with Neighborhood Bridges, a growing nonprofit.

BY LAWRENCE BUDD

STAFF WRITER

WARREN COUNTY

LEBANON — The Lebanon City Schools are the latest to use technology

created by a Columbus-area non-profit to fight suburban poverty.

The Lebanon Bridges program is the 25th Gateway to Kindness set up

through Neighborhood Bridges, a non-profit organization formed three years

ago in Westerville, a Columbus suburb.

In its first week, the website and the sharing of the needs of needy children

Terry Funke and Lynn Payne are resource coordinators for the Lebanon City Schools

working on the school district’s Gateway to Kindness project.

LAWRENCE BUDD / STAFF

and families in Lebanon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have raised 10

coats, $61 to pay for a volunteer’s fingerprinting, pots and pans and two twin

mattresses for needy people in the community. Other programs are set up in

the Columbus area, Alabama and the Sycamore school district, north of

Cincinnati.

“I created Neighborhood Bridges as a way to address runaway poverty in

suburban America,” said Rick Bannister, a former school board member in

Westerville and founder and CEO of the nonprofit.

The program expanded into Alabama in 2019 after Bannister’s brother, David,

suggested it to leaders of Hoover, Alabama, where he lives. There are now 14

Alabama communities with a Gateway to Kindness.

“We basically want to address the health and wellness of the students, fill

basic needs they might have,” Bannister said. “It’s meant to serve the

individual needs of each community.”

While poverty may be most often associated with urban areas, Bannister

pointed to the fact that about one-third of the students in Westerville, a

middle-to-upper-middle-class Columbus suburb, qualified for the free lunches

as an example of growing suburban poverty problems.

“This is not meant to replicate existing services, this is meant to bridge all

resources together,” he said.

Tracy Funke, the district resource coordinator who started the movement to

bring the program to Lebanon, said about one-quarter of the Lebanon

district’s 5,500 students qualify for the free-lunch program.

“It’s really a community initiative. It’s easiest to roll it out through the

schools,”Funke said.

Upon coming to work for the Lebanon school district three years ago, Funke,

a licensed social worker, presented six sessions on “Hidden Lebanon” with a

children’s services worker, police detective and representative from “mobile

crisis,” in which a social worker rides along with police on calls involving

drugs or other problems.

Funke, a licensed social worker and former mobile crisis worker, said filling

the needs of the district’s needy students and families “was a little

overwhelming” on her own.

Funke said she took the Neighborhood Bridges program, she first learned of

through a district consultant, to district administrators in late 2019.

“Within 5 days we were meeting with Rick Bannister,” she said.

After seeking input at a community meeting, a steering committee was

formed. Lebanon Bridges was launched on Feb. 7.

“What a great response we’ve gotten,” Funke said.

“The key to this getting the word out.”

The Lebanon YMCA and schools in the district are local donation centers.

The children and families served remain anonymous.

The non-profit is supported by corporate sponsorship and grants, Bannister

said. “One hundred percent of what’s donated in a community stays in that

community,” he said.

Contact this reporter at 937- 225-2261 or email Larry.

[email protected]

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