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September 21 – October 4, 2013

Community Commentary

Letters to the editor

Self-Sufficiency program leads residents to a brighter future BY TRINITY DONOVAN

I always enjoy reading the success stories of those who graduate from our Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. FSS is a Councilwoman Trinity voluntary Donovan federal program administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is designed to assist families in low-income housing transition from public assistance to gainful employment. Sofia Rendon and Amarilis Rivera of Chandler will be recognized on Oct. 2 at the Chandler Center for the Arts for their hard work and dedication to attain economic independence and self-sufficiency. Sofia is married and has four teenage children. She enrolled in the FSS program in May 2009. At the time of her enrollment, Sofia was the primary income provider for her family. She faced high debt and a poor credit score. The possibility of homeownership did not seem possible. However, Sofia wanted to create a better life for her and her family. She was determined to overcome challenges that were in the way of achieving her goals. Since enrolling in FSS four years ago, Sofia increased her income by 44 % and worked diligently to clean up her credit score. Despite the obstacles along the way, including

a serious injury of a family member, she continued to persevere. Sofia met with a homeownership counselor from Newtown Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that assists with affordable housing. Newtown also educates first-time homebuyers on matters involving budgeting and homeownership. Sofia is house shopping and hopes to purchase her own home by the end of the year. Amarilis is a single mother with two children and was working full-time when she enrolled in the FSS program in May 2006. She did not know how to budget or improve her poor credit score. However, since joining the program, Amarilis was able to purchase a vehicle and paid the car loan in full. One of her goals is to complete her associate’s degree in administration of justice through Chandler-Gilbert Community College and is only three credits away from completion. Due to some health challenges, Amarilis is working part-time, but Newtown is assisting her with financial counseling and she is working to pay down debt. As part of the financial component, participants open an Individual Development Account (IDA), which is created for eligible homebuyers. They can receive a maximum of $15,000 toward the purchase of a home, matching up to $3 for each $1 saved by the participant(s). Amarilis recently graduated from the FSS program with an impressive $4,000 in escrow. She looks forward to becoming a future homeowner. Participants of the FSS program work with Chandler’s Family Self-Sufficiency Specialist to establish goals in various

areas including employment, education, and homeownership. The program allows its members up to five years to become self-sufficient, however, many attain this status sooner. There have been 82 Chandler graduates of the FSS program since it began in 1992. Chandler has 30 families from Section 8 and 30 families from Public Housing enrolled in program. This is the maximum allowable number for Chandler based on restrictions by HUD. A requirement of the program is that families not receive any cash assistance up to 12 months prior to graduation. Also, as the participant’s income increases his/her rent also increases. The difference in rent payment is then placed into an escrow account and is released to the participant upon graduation to help him/her get established. During this year’s annual graduation ceremony, the Family Self-Sufficiency East Valley Alliance will honor 10 graduates from Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale. Additionally, a Special Effort Award will also be given to five individuals. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment to be a part of this program, but the gratification and new beginning the participants receive as a result is well worth the time. Sofia and Amarilis are to be commended for their efforts—their stories are truly inspirational. They bring hope and encouragement to others facing similar circumstances. To learn more about the FSS program, contact Family Self-Sufficiency Specialist, Vickie Ellexson at 480-7823246

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Closing the digital divide for Arizona students BY SUSAN ANABLE

Arizona students are back in class and in addition to the notebooks and lunchboxes, some parents are packing smartphones or tablets in their kid’s backpacks. Some school districts are Susan Anable even now requesting that kids bring their own technology to school to enhance their learning. A recent Pew Internet & American Life study found that more than 80% of teachers agree that today’s digital technologies are leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools and school districts. When 76% of teachers assign online homework, teachers increasingly find themselves in the difficult position of either leaving behind students without Internet at home or holding back the other “connected students.” What’s truly troubling is that many kids throughout Arizona, even those with Internet enabled smartphones and tablets, have no access to Internet in their homes. Internet access and digital literacy are essential for today’s students to succeed and ensure that they have the tools to compete in our 21st century workforce. Connect2Compete (C2C) was created by community leaders, the private sector and foundations to bridge the digital divide and to ensure affordable access to the Internet for low income families. As the largest Internet provider in Arizona, and a company that has a strong history of supporting broadband adoption, it was a natural for Cox Communications to jump into this partnership. While the main goal of C2C is to improve student engagement and increase graduation rates, it also benefits other members of the household. Just consider this—in the United States today, more than 80% of Fortune 500 companies post their job openings online only and require online applications—the same is true here at Cox Communications. So how does it work? Families who have at least one child enrolled in the national free school lunch program are eligible for SEE LETTER TO THE EDITOR PAGE 42



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September 21 – October 4, 2013


Community Commentary

What is the value of education? BY JIM BISHOP

I am chairman of the “Yes for Chandler Students” committee. Our committee’s single purpose this year is to raise community awareness and Jim Bishop, submitted understanding of photo the importance and necessity to pass an override on behalf of the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) this fall. I am not employed by the school district. I am the parent of a high school sophomore and an eighth grader; both of my children have been in CUSD schools since kindergarten. It was my involvement as a school volunteer which allowed me to witness firsthand the incredible educational opportunities provided by the district. The reason to support the override is straight forward. I feel the facts support CUSD. I think answering three simple questions clarify the necessity to vote “Yes” on the override: 1) Is there a financial need for additional investment in CUSD? 2) Has CUSD proven itself to be worthy of past investment? 3) How does the community benefit from added investment in CUSD? “Yes” is the simple and quick answer to question No.1. Arizona is ranked 48th in

the nation in education funding and funds education at a rate that is 36% below the national average. Between 2007 and 2011, no other state cut a higher percentage from its education budget than did Arizona. This led CUSD to experiencing $36 million in cuts over the previous four years. CUSD is in need of additional financial investment. In answering the second question it is important to note CUSD has been an outstanding investment and produced an educational experience that ranks among the best in the state. CUSD has received three consecutive “A” ratings from the Arizona Department of Education. This includes individual “A” ratings for every district high school. Therefore, every parent in Chandler can take comfort in knowing their child is destined to attend an “A” rated high school regardless of where they live. The district had 10 schools ranked in the state’s top 100, more than any other district. This level of success is the result of hard work performed daily by the 2,000+ teachers in the district, the visionary planning of the district leadership and the wide array of educational opportunities offered. To fully answer the final question let’s examine the override’s effect on the district and the entire community. The added investment of the override will allow the district to develop a long-term financial plan which will fund existing programs and develop new ones. In addition, the

override money will be used to directly enhance school safety with the hiring of additional safety officers, continue to retain and recruit the services of outstanding and exceptional educators and maintain smaller class size. It is essential to note that everyone in the community benefits when we invest in the district. A successful, well-supported and respected school district will help attract new business to Chandler. With new business comes much needed jobs and added investment in the community which increases the tax base and lowers everyone’s tax rate. There is an undeniable link between stable property values and good schools. The entire community wins when we invest in education. The cost of the override is important to address; a homeowner with a home that is 20% above the median value will experience a tax increase that is less than 25 cents a day. For that quarter you help support one of the state’s top-ranked districts and invest in your community. However, I want to caution those who fixate on the cost of education and lose sight of the much more important question, “What is the Value of Education?” The value of

education is priceless, especially when done well, as it is at CUSD. Education has the ability to change lives, shape goals, and enable the American Dream for this generation and the ones to follow. Please join me in saying “Yes” to the students, “Yes” to the override and “Yes” to a bright future for CUSD and the entire community. The Yes for Chandler Students Committee wants to make sure everyone is clear on the details of the election. This will be a mail-in ballot only election. Every registered voter in the CUSD district (Please note some Gilbert residents reside in the CUSD district) will receive a ballot in the mail. The ballots will be mailed on Oct. 11. They are due at the county election office by Tue., Nov. 5. To be safe, the county election office recommends mailing it by Sat., Nov. 2. Members of our committee encourage everyone to perform the following steps after receiving the ballot, “Open it, Mark it Yes, and Mail it.” For more information on the override, visit our website at www.yesforchandlerstudents. com.


kids in Arizona deserve to have the same tools for learning and Connect2Compete is one important way we can do our part. For more information visit connect2compete. org/cox/.

low-cost access to high-speed Internet through Connect2Compete. A consortium of hardware and software partners provide low-cost computers and digital literacy training and Cox Communications provides a two-year commitment of Internet service for $9.99 a month, free installation and a free modem rental. Cox Communications believes that all

Jim Bishop is chairman of “Yes for Chandler Students.”

Susan Anable is the vice president of public affairs for Cox Communications Arizona and is the mother of two schoolaged children.

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