TOPEKA (KSNT) – According to the most recent neighborhood health map in Shawnee County, the Highland Crest (or Hi-Crest) neighborhood is in “intensive care” status. A local program called NET Reach is working to empower residents to change that health diagnosis.
According to the City of Topeka website, Hi-Crest is the area between S Kansas Ave. and SE California Ave from west to east and SE 29th St. and SE 37th St. from north to south.
Director of Hi-Crest NET Sally Zellers said, “A lot of our residents on a given day don’t have electricity, gas, or water turned on. Some of them [are] virtually homeless with a roof over their head.”
According to the most recent neighborhood health map from 2011:
- 92 percent of kids in the Hi-Crest neighborhood live in poverty;
- 55 percent of adults live in poverty;
- 46 percent of families are headed by a single parent;
- 62 percent of families are affected by domestic violence;
- 13 percent are gang members or associates
They also cited a 25 percent unemployment rate in Hi-Crest, compared to an 11.6 percent unemployment rate in all of Topeka.
(Note: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 5.6 percent unemployment rate in Topeka for the year 2014)
NET Reach is reaching out to the community with a class called Dare to Dream. According to Zellers, the class meets for one week and covers various aspects of life, including financial planning, goal-setting, and parenting.
The purpose, Zellers said, is to pull them out of isolation and get them dreaming again.
Hi-Crest resident Jeanette Hillard was a member of the first Dare to Dream class in April 2014.
Hillard said she made some personal choices that led her down a hard path. She said, “I had to start from the bottom and I had to start crawling to the top again.”
But she said the mentoring she received through NET Reach changed her life. She began pursuing educational and career goals, and has so far, succeeded.
“I’m not quite there yet. I’m not the woman I want to be, but I’m definitely not the woman that I used to be,” said Hillard.
After a resident completes the Dare to Dream class, they’re paired with a mentor.
Zellers said the mentors “coming alongside and being there for support when they’re needed has been huge.”
They also provide NET Bucks as incentive for attending class and participating in NET Reach events. With those NET Bucks, they can earn a functioning washing machine or a paint job on their house, for example.
Zellers said NET Reach doesn’t give free handouts. She said it’s up to the residents to change the health diagnosis of their neighborhood.
Hillard’s message for her neighbors is, “It’s not where you live; it’s how you live. Life is what you make it. You have to put the foot work in, regardless of where you live.”
According to Zellers, the goal is to pilot the program in Hi-Crest, then replicate it in other parts of Topeka. She said by figuring out how to address poverty there, they hope to address poverty everywhere.
For more information about NET Reach and how to get involved, visit their website.