Virginia Beach to Help 500 Families Become ‘Financially Fit’ as Part of Mayors’ Action Challenge

October 18, 2010

At a City Hall press conference held last week, Virginia Beach, Va., Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr., announced a set of citywide goals for the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families, including a new, targeted initiative to help 500 low-income families become more financially secure by 2015.

Other key goals include:

  • Ensuring that by 2012, at least 90 percent of preschool children are prepared for school success, as measured by literacy screening scores;
  • Expanding the Extended Day Kindergarten program to help close student achievement gaps;
  • Ensuring that by 2015, 95 percent of public school students graduate from high school with the necessary skills to succeed as 21st century learners, workers and citizens;
  • Assigning police to conduct door-to-door interviews of 300 residents in at-risk neighborhoods to gain an in-depth understanding of what is needed to make them feel safer in their homes;
  • Implementing a strategy to decrease the number of runaway youth; and
  • Aligning city and school district efforts to reduce childhood obesity.

"As mayor and as a first-time expectant granddad, I, like many citizens, have a passion for ensuring that Virginia Beach is an ideal place for future generations - a real ‘Community for a Lifetime,'" said Mayor Sessoms. "The best way to achieve this is through a community-wide approach to providing youth and families with accessible, affordable and sustainable opportunities that will improve their quality of life, help them recognize their strengths, increase their chances for achievement and promote their development as happy and responsible citizens."

Collaborative Process

Mayor Sessoms joins 100 of his peers in participating in the Mayors' Action Challenge. Under his leadership, Virginia Beach officials and staff participated in a deliberate, collaborative process to establish the city's challenge goals and targets.

The city's director of human services chairs a Families and Youth Opportunities team, one of seven "strategic issue teams" within Virginia Beach local government. With representatives from the city's libraries, parks and recreation department, Youth Opportunities Office and other local agencies, this team spearheaded efforts to assess needs, identify priorities and benchmarks of success, and explore strategies to achieve the city's goals for child and family well-being.

Other issue teams weighed in at a citywide Strategy Summit, held last summer, at which NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) Senior Fellow Leon Andrews served as keynote speaker. Heidi Goldberg, YEF Institute program director for early childhood and family economic success, participated in last week's announcement and discussed next steps with Virginia Beach leaders.

Virginia Beach City Public School Board Chairman Daniel D. Edwards said the initiative aligns perfectly with the school division's Compass to 2015 strategic plan.

"Improving the lives of children is inherently the No. 1 goal of every healthy, effective city," Edwards said. "But the key to real progress is approaching the challenge collaboratively, strategically and with the resources necessary to make a difference."

500 Families Financially Fit for the Future

The announcement of Virginia Beach's participation in the Mayors' Action Challenge marked the launch of a new initiative called Five Hundred Families Financially Fit for the Future (5Fs). Through partnerships with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the city will begin by identifying and assisting 100 low-income families in filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit and helping "unbanked" families open bank accounts through a new Bank On Virginia Beach program.

Families will also receive financial education on reducing debt, combating consumer fraud and predatory lending, avoiding foreclosure and stretching budgets in this challenging economic environment. The 5Fs initiative will serve more families over time, building on relationships with other local organizations, such as Live$mart, a group of community partners convened by the United Way of South Hampton Roads.

5Fs is part of an emerging trend in which cities or nonprofit organizations coordinate access to work supports, education, employment and training services, and asset-building and protection efforts to lift a targeted group of families from poverty to self-sufficiency. Similar family-centered initiatives that engage a wide range of local agencies and organizations can be found in Jacksonville, Fla. (1,000 in 1,000 program), Erie, Pa. (Erie Together), and Savannah, Ga. (Step Up Savannah).

Innovative Partnerships

Grounded in cross-sector partnerships, many of the other strategies Virginia Beach will use to reach its challenge targets are also at the cutting edge of city practice. For instance, through a truancy reduction pilot program, police in one precinct have worked with school counselors, parents and service providers for the past year to develop customized solutions that get students back to school. Local leaders hope to expand the program citywide by 2012.

The city also partners with courts and nonprofits in the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. JDAI screens juvenile offenders for secure detention based on their level of risk to the community, saving tax dollars and improving public safety.

Collaboration extends across the city, from the development of a joint use library by the city and Tidewater Community College to the creation of VB GrowSmart, which engages 30 entities in coordinating services for young children and their parents.

"We are committed to quality education and the healthy development of our children, from prenatal care to birth, and through the most formative years of childhood and into adulthood," said Mayor Sessoms. "It is with great enthusiasm and pride that Virginia Beach joins the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families."

Details: To view all of Virginia Beach's challenge goals and related strategies, or to learn more about and join the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families, visit or contact Michael Karpman at (202) 626-3072 or