How hope, dreams are improving Charlotte neighborhood

Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis: May 02, 2018


New initiative takes cradle-to-career approach to improving lives in Renaissance West

In a cozy room filled with windows, books and cheerful posters, two kindergartners practice letter sounds by playing a picture game on a carpet mat.

A few doors down, third-graders sit in rapt attention – hands rising rapidly to answer questions – while their teacher talks about the primary colors in famous abstract art. Another door opens to a science lesson where children happily bang rocks together to make sand as the classroom snake naps in its glass case.


Teacher Best Woodrow surrounded by students during lunch.

At lunchtime, the children head to a cafeteria offering baked chicken, fresh salads, apple slices, beans and rice. The Renaissance West STEAM Academy gleams in its newness, and students know their teachers expect great things from them.

The new public school, loaded with extra resources from donations, is key to the Renaissance West Community Initiative, an ambitious effort to lift families out of poverty and into better lives. It’s located in what was once one of Charlotte, N.C.’s most troubled neighborhoods, the former Boulevard Homes housing development on West Boulevard.

RWCI’s holistic cradle-to-career approach attacks the factors that can keep families poor, from lack of education, skills, child care, affordable housing and transportation to crime, mental health and substance abuse issues. A variety of agencies, including housing, social services and medical, as well as nonprofits and business leaders have footprints planted firmly in the effort.

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