Greg Borom has served as the Director of Advocacy at Children First / Communities in Schools of Buncombe County for over ten years. From in-school case management and mentoring, to after-school learning centers and backpack drives, to a family resource center and food pantry, Children First/ CIS has spent over 40 years developing a whole-child, whole-family approach to success in school. Greg’s role is to use policy advocacy to bring the voices of Buncombe county’s children and families to the table in when it comes to the larger social issues that affect their chances for success at school and life.
NCC: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing children in Buncombe County right now?
GB: We need more folks to understand that our public schools are really becoming our front-line child poverty agencies. But they’re not really funded and equipped to handle the magnitude. Just as an example, our school districts have been reporting over 700 children identified as homeless each school year.
We see every day the combined effect of those issues – the high cost of housing, food insecurity, transportation, racial disparities in health outcomes – in how the children and families we work with have to navigate them. This puts a lot of additional stress and distraction on children. Our challenge is, how do we change the systems and policies so that all children have the opportunity to succeed.
NCC: Why did Children First/CIS decide to become a part of NC Child’s Child Advocacy Network?
GB: When I came on in 2007, the organization was really looking back at its roots in advocacy to figure out how it was going to proceed. Through that process we developed an understanding of what we call “values-based advocacy” work, where we ground what we do in public policy in the work that we do in direct services. The organization really delved into whether direct services are meeting children and families’ needs that we’re seeing every day. A lot of those needs are a reflection of larger systems and policies and structures. If we’re really going to fulfill our mission, we need to do more than be there with a direct-service response. We’ve also got to be investing in trying to change policy, and work at that level.
Being part of the Child Advocacy Network has helped us be effective in building out our own organizational infrastructure and culture around advocacy. Now we’re seeing a new level of interest in Buncombe county around policy advocacy from human services nonprofits and others.
NCC: What do you hope will change for children in Buncombe County as a result of your being involved with the Child Advocacy Network?
GB: One thing we really like about our partnership with NC Child over the years is that NC Child provides that multi-dimensional data on children’s well-being, the county data cards, and the annual report with the NC Institute of Medicine. It really uses the data to show what actually happens as all these forces converge on children and families’ lives. You all are really good at giving us the data to show how it plays out in our county. You’re also an organization that can identify the policy opportunities in the moment. We know all of this is going on, but here are a few things that we really need to work on this year, or that can move the needle in a measurable way right now – and we’re trying to replicate that model at the local level.
NCC: How do you stay centered and keep laughing?
GB: It’s important to take vacations, set boundaries, and make time for things beyond work. I love playing music, I love being outdoors and running, I love having nice meals with friends, and that’s what keeps me going. You do have to think of it as a marathon, and that makes it even more crucial to celebrate the small victories. You need to carve out personal time and space. You need to have a life beyond these issues that replenishes you.
Learn more about CIS/Communities in Schools and support their work at childrenfirstcisbc.org.
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