Wake County November 2023

Population
1,175,021

County Seat
Raleigh

Median Income
$88,471

Population Density Designation
Urban

There was much to learn from Wake County, and the day’s primary topics of discussion revolved around innovative work to help the county address key drivers of health needs: Food security, housing and education.

The first stop was at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC headquarters, in Raleigh, where we met leaders from the various entities that make up the area’s food system. Ashley McCumber, president and CEO of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC, got the conversation started by thanking Blue Cross NC and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation for being such steadfast partners in the work to address food insecurity in the state.

He then offered a somber statistic: Just a week prior to our visit, the USDA had released its latest hunger report, and the news was not good. One in seven Americans is food insecure. One in five children is. In 2022, the jump in food insecurity compared to 2021 represented the largest one-year increase since 2008. The data underscored the importance of the collaborative efforts of the Food Bank, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Meals on Wheels.

One of the challenges of any large-scale food security operation is minimizing waste. How do organizations that serve a large region get food where it needs to go? The Food Bank uses the “Fair Share Model” to track poverty rates and gaps in service to determine where the greatest areas of need are in the counties they serve. Based on that information, the organization calculates how to match pounds of food to meet the highest need.

Ron Pringle, president and CEO of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, explained the importance of programing that goes beyond food delivery. In addition to a variety of food delivery programs (including school choice pantries, mobile markets, Spinning Plate Food Truck and grocery bags for seniors), the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also organizes nutrition, culinary and agricultural education to help communities become more self-sufficient. They’ve developed a 12-week course designed to help “bounce back individuals” get culinary skills. Students who complete the course get support finding a job in the food industry, and the organization has partnered with Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech) on curricular alignment so students who finish the course can roll right into the college’s degree program. And, the Food Shuttle has organized community gardens and its own farm, which produce fresh fruits and vegetables that get distributed through Food Shuttle programs.

The robust discussion covered a lot ground, but it repeatedly circled back to a key theme: The Food Bank and its partners have moved well beyond measuring impact by calculating the pounds of food delivered. To address the challenges of operating in a post-COVID environment, they are also addressing the root causes of food insecurity by 1) promoting workforce development, 2) increasing access to local produce (and generating local economic development in the process) and 3) partnering with health care organizations to tailor food boxes to meet specific needs.

Next, the team visited the Village at Washington Terrace in Raleigh, established by DHIC – the largest nonprofit affordable housing developer in the Triangle. The development is one of several DHIC projects that have put the region on the cutting edge in terms of imagining what affordable housing can be.

Our stop at the Village was a surprisingly appropriate stop along the way of the Extra Miles Tour. The Tour was conceived as an opportunity to listen to and learn more about the communities Blue Cross NC serves. DHIC embraced a similar approach when they designed the Village at Washington Terrace. Instead of just plopping a sprawling cluster of buildings in the middle of a historic area, they convened residents, neighbors and leaders in the community to ask what they’d like to see. Listening was top priority in plan development. Acting on what they heard was just as critical. The end result reflects what was talked about during these listening sessions: Green spaces, architectural diversity, details that preserve and celebrate the area’s rich history, onsite childcare options (open not just to residents, but to the community at large) and more.

DHIC also provides a number of onsite resources to foster well-being and community connection: Health and wellness programming; a community garden that grows produce for the community’s food pantry; tutoring; mobile health clinics; financial guidance (and critical support when residents fall behind on rent); and much more.

From Washington Terrace, the Extra Miles Tour van ventured onward to our last stop of the day: Wake Tech’s Eli Lilly Science and Technology Center. President Scott Ralls (with the assistance of several enthusiastic student ambassadors along the way) took us on a tour of this state-of-the-art facility, with cutting edge lab spaces for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), gene therapy, biotech and more. Eventually, the group settled in a classroom, where Ralls explained that the Research Triangle area sits comfortably in the top ten metropolitan areas in every economic measure except for one: When it comes to economic mobility, Wake County ranks 96th out of 100 metropolitan regions. Wake Tech envisioned its “Ladder Economics” strategy to focus on building a workforce development infrastructure that will engage more diverse students and sustain the area’s strong job market.

The college has designed a flexible degree structure that gives students the opportunity to accumulate stackable professional credentials, apprenticeships and work-based internship opportunities, strategic workforce degree transfers, and specialized career support.

Through a joint effort called RTP Bio, Wake Tech partners with Durham Technical Community College (Durham Tech) to expand options even further. For example, Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton explained how Wake Tech had let Durham Tech duplicate its biotech curriculum, which gives students different pathways depending their interest in entering the workforce sooner or continuing on in higher education. Now, Durham Tech is developing a virtual coursework component, which it will share with Wake Tech. They also host joint career fairs and engage in other activities that demonstrate their shared commitment to driving economic mobility and workforce development.

Just as importantly, Wake Tech partners with the local school system and Boys and Girls Clubs to engage students as early as 9th grade, giving them a taste of coursework in genetics, computer programming, biotech and other fields that are likely to captivate a young person’s interests. By the 11th grade, these students can start working on the campus’s professional equipment.

Following the discussion, the college hosted a festive Wake County Community Reception, which brought together faculty from various colleges throughout the Triangle and Triad, community partners and elected officials. The gathering of people committed to strengthening the Triangle through education, food security, improved employment opportunities and affordable housing reflected some of the day’s key lessons: 1) drivers of health needs all intersect and intertwine; barriers to any one of them usually lead to barriers to others, 2) that crossover influence is why it takes a holistic approach to improve the health and well-being of our communities and 3) a holistic approach requires a coalition of partners, working together, outside of their silos.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 12/23