Section III. Thought Force Recommendations

Through PTF members’ extensive community conversations, exchanges with local and national anti-poverty advocates and experts, impact/feasibility rankings, and review of the previous section’s Forsyth Futures analysis, we arrived at an array of recommendations for action.  Our recommendations are here organized in three parts.

A. Overarching Conclusions

Coordination and Visibility.  Our Thought Force identified dozens of governmental, organizational, and community-based efforts to alleviate poverty in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. (For a sampling, see Appendix 1 to this Report.)  Some of those efforts are widely known (Place Matters, e.g., or Forsyth Promise). Others are in a fledgling stage, or occur in a particular neighborhood, without much publicity. Enhancing residents’ awareness of existing programs/policies, and better coordination among them, is an essential first step toward improving conditions in our area.  Which leads to a second broad recommendation:

‘Poverty Czar.’ Coordinating current anti-poverty programs, evaluating and helping implement new ones, and heightening visibility of both current and future efforts is highly complex work. Our Thought Force was hard-pressed to imagine what collection of officials, agencies, public-private partnerships, and the like could perform these vital central functions.  While we recognize resource limitations, devoting funds to a new city/county position—or perhaps partnering with a new nonprofit organization designed explicitly to perform this coordination/evaluation/awareness-raising work—seems a necessary condition for positive change.

Comprehensive Approach.  Anti-poverty efforts across the U.S. often take the form of “one-off” programs: a local plan to provide job training, for example.  Both academic studies and a wealth of experience strongly suggest that only a system-wide approach can make a meaningful, enduring difference.  Hence our simultaneous attention to five broad action areas—education, health, housing, hunger, and jobs.  Coordinated resources from across these areas, brought to bear on a particular neighborhood, promise more positive results than the same monies devoted to a single city-wide program. Promising comprehensive efforts are underway in Winston-Salem; we describe examples (e.g., Strong @ Home, or Place Matters) in our expanded/detailed list of PTF recommendations in Appendix A.

Transportation Matters.  Although not a separate thematic focus of our work, transportation emerged as a common focus across all five areas. Without reliable public or private transportation, holding down a job or securing nutritious food or seeing a health-care provider (to take three among many often-cited examples) becomes far more difficult.

National Initiatives.  As communities across the U.S. continue to strive, like ours, to address poverty, organized initiatives have sprung up regionally and nationally.  Joining one or more of these can a) provide a central focus for the many different groups and individuals engaged in poverty alleviation; b) offer lessons about what programs have (and, as important, haven’t) worked elsewhere; and c) bring financial and expert resources to our community.  In the next part of this Recommendations section, we list nine initiatives for the Mayor/City Council’s consideration—and encourage knowledgeable local residents to suggest others.

B. Exemplary National Initiatives

Thought Force members explored a host of national/regional anti-poverty and community initiatives that Winston-Salem might join or collaborate with; we recommend that the Mayor and City Council, with support from the Thought Force, strongly consider joining one or more.

In considering the most suitable initiative(s), we found useful the reports of State of the South, the flagship publication of MDC (formerly known as “Manpower Development Corporation”), entitled “Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the New Generation”  and “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative – Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity.” These reports examine poverty measurements and identify relevant factors for our city such as residential segregation, public school poverty, prevalence of single-income families in a two-income economy, unequal social capital, and living in isolation.  They emphasize the importance of a place-based approach when joining broader initiatives.

Our set of nine examples follows; we welcome additional suggestions.  *A rich variety of local initiatives are underway as well, of course. The PTF describes many of those in Appendix A.

1. Purpose Built Community Network (Focus on Education, Housing, and Health; click on Overview below for details. Sixteen national partner sites range from Oakland, CA to Birmingham, AL; click on any of three examples included below).
Overview A network of partners sharing a vision for a better future with the support of a non-profit consulting firm that works side-by-side with local leaders to plan and implement a holistic revitalization effort. Purpose Built services — which are provided at no charge — are tailored to each community’s needs and the dynamics of the neighborhood they are working to revitalize.

Atlanta / East Lake 
Charlotte / Renaissance West   
Raleigh / Southeast Raleigh Promise

2. Thriving Cities  (Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia) Thriving Cities is a group of unconventional urbanists committed to equipping people and communities through its distinctive Human Ecology Framework for community wealth and wellbeing. Click here to watch an animated video about the approach.  Click on any of the below three pilot cities for more details:

Portland, Oregon 
Richmond, Virginia 
Orlando, Florida

3. Bridges Community Bridges Communities are organized around lessons derived from the landmark poverty-alleviation work of Ruby Payne and Phil DeVol. Workshops for community members—of all economic backgrounds—create a cohort of engaged people formerly living in poverty and allied individuals/organizations dedicated to their support. The well-wrought Resource Builder Model works across all sectors of a community to address poverty’s root causes and achieve a sustainable community where all can live well. 

Goodwill and other Winston-Salem/Forsyth County organizations are currently running ‘Bridges’ workshops; designating ours as a Bridges Community would involve limited financial investment and dedicated engagement by five or six lead local agencies.  We would also have access to national meetings/exchanges with other cities featuring Bridges Communities.

4. GE Healthy Cities Leadership Challenge GE’s HealthyCities Leadership Challenge is an open innovation competition that challenges communities and private business to come together across sectors and work to accelerate the pace of change in healthcare and to improve overall health.

The first set of Healthy Cities was chosen last year; Winston-Salem is on the list for consideration in the second round.

5. IBM Smarter Cities Challenge In each of the past seven years, IBM has designated 15-18 ‘Smarter Cities’ around the globe, including 4-5 in the U.S.  Each city identifies a specific critical challenge and receives resources, including a team of IBM experts, to help them address it. Teams spend 3-4 weeks on the ground, working closely with city leaders on how to make the city “smarter and more effective.”

Smarter Cities in the U.S. include both large (Chicago, Atlanta) and mid-size (Memphis, Knoxville).  PTF members are in discussion with IBM about the Challenge’s future, and a possible Winston-Salem application.

6. Model Food Cities The newly-created World Food Policy Institute at Duke University is considering creating a ‘Model Food Cities’ program, involving a set of cities worldwide that would receive resource and expertise support in combating food insecurity and hunger.

While no decisions have been made about how model cities will be chosen, PTF members are on the Institute’s advisory board and will remain closely engaged in planning.

7. Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV):This federal/state effort, begun as a pilot program during the second Bush administration and expanded during the Obama presidency, provides funding to states and cities to support evidence-based home visiting programs for families and young children.  MIECHV programs include Connecticut’s highly-regarded “Child First”; this and similar ‘Visiting Programs’ have been described as “perhaps the most effective anti-poverty program in America.” [Jonathan Cohn, “This May Be the Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program in America,” The Huffington Post, April 28, 2015, at]

Under MIECHV programs, a set of professionals—nurses and social workers, most prominently—evaluate family needs, provide in-person family support to advance healthy child development and parenting skills, and connect families to local resources and services designed to strengthen child and family health and wellbeing.  *Several North Carolina communities, from Northampton County through Durham to Mitchell and Buncombe counties, have developed MIECHV programs, with more than $10 million expended in the state to date.

8. Building Healthy Communities Building Healthy Communities (BHC)  is a place-based strategy about changing rules at the local and state levels so that everyone is valued and has access to the resources and opportunities essential for health: affordable housing and fresh food, jobs that are safe and pay fair wages, clean air, and the other ingredients essential for a healthy life.

Key partners in BHC fall into three basic constituencies: government and systems leaders; community-based organizations and advocacy groups; and community residents and organizing groups. Building Healthy Communities began in 14 California locations, and may extend its network of partners nationally. A sample link is below; Santa Ana and Forsyth County are roughly the same population size (each around 350,000).

 Central Santa Ana

9. ArtPlace America (Art Place) This ten-year collaboration among foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development. ‘Creative placemaking’—art as an integrated par of place-based development—can strengthen the social, physical and economic fabric of communities.

 As a ‘City of Arts & Innovation,’ Winston-Salem would benefit from involvement in ArtPlace America.  Resources and experienced assistance to our many vibrant local arts programs, ably coordinated by the region’s oldest Arts Council, would be welcome. ArtPlace cities involve arts and cultural organizations alongside planners for housing, transportation, and similar sectors. Each isrecognized as an essential part of any healthy community, requiring planning and investment from its community—and with a commensurate responsibility to contribute to its community’s overall future.

Community/PTF Policy Recommendations

Our Thought Force agreed on 56 recommendations across our five thematic areas. These were culled from several hundred ideas that surfaced during our six local World Café discussions. They were then reviewed by local advocates, experts, and PTF members, then rated by more than 200 community members.  Details about each recommendation, including information about ongoing local efforts and community comments related to specific recommendations, are contained in Appendix A.


1.  Local churches or colleges/universities “adopt” elementary schools. Local churches and/or universities “adopt” elementary schools, providing a range of services: book drives, childcare, tutoring, etc.  Individual and group relationships that are likely to result would create meaningful mentorships lasting into the schoolchildren’s adolescence.

2.  Program connecting young residents with senior-citizen mentors. Pairing young people and seniors could help both. Seniors might receive lawn care and technological literacy, e.g., and in turn offer life skills, tutoring, and other benefits.

3.  Universal Pre-K in City. Research shows lasting benefits for children who attend pre-school, including increased graduation and employment rates, and reduced incarceration. Currently around 1,300 area children are enrolled in Pre-K; would need to serve 3+ times as many (c. 4,500) for universal coverage. 

4.  Improve Transit for Education. Revise bus schedules and routes to ensure affordable (subsidized) and timely access to schools, YMCA’s, community colleges, universities and other learning centers. Enables greater parental involvement in schools, access to job training and gainful employment, and lifelong learning. 

5.  Mentorship program/employment-tutoring programs. Mentors would be younger Winston-Salem residents, who return to local high schools to provide tutoring, informal connections, and inspiration to students to stay in school and graduate.

6. “Career Days” at local high schools.  With recruiters and volunteers from various professions, organized Career Days would foster intergenerational cooperation, empower students, and make use of existing structures instead of building anew. Career presentations underscore the importance of education for work and professional success.

7. Higher Pay for Pre-K teachers. North Carolina teacher pay is ranked 49th in the nation; preschool teachers’ mean annual salary is $25,530.  Higher pay for pre-K teachers would attract more applicants and allow current teachers to devote greater time and energy to their students.

8. Community Service at Middle/High Schools. Existing ‘Life Skills’ classes could be modified to include community-service projects, coordinated across the school system for maximum impact. Students and neighborhoods alike would benefit from this engagement.  

9. Incentivize Employment Tutoring Programs. Private and public employers incentivize staff to serve as tutors in local schools, raising awareness and encouraging connections between businesses and schools. 


1. Subsidize food stamps for healthier foods. Healthy food is generally more expensive than junk food.  Enhancing SNAP values for nutritious foods would bring costs into alignment and encourage people to use SNAP to purchase healthy food.

2.  Tax incentives for fully paid parental leave. A modest tax incentive for employers offering parental leave beyond currently-mandated time periods. San Francisco recently implemented such measures, to positive reviews.

3.  Improve bus affordability, access & frequency. Improved bus routing—from lower-income neighborhoods to health clinics and supermarkets, e.g.—would provide primary (preventative and non-urgent care) and secondary health benefits, such as expanded access to healthy nutrition. Subsidizing bus fares for neediest residents is also vital. 

4. Expand pro bono medical care.  There are several existing options; expanding these is vital to improving health outcomes.

5.  Early maternal health programs for non-English speakers. Publicly-offered and well publicized health education programs for expectant mothers, offered in Spanish and other non-English languages regularly spoken locally, would reach a broader local constituency—and provide beneficial cohort effects among attending mothers-to-be as well.

6.  Integrate parental health education into pregnancy classes. A sustained focus on maternal health is vital to enhanced infant and early childhood outcomes. More and better publicized pregnancy classes—featuring parental education on topics like breastfeeding, staying in school, postpartum depression, food preparation and clarification of misconceptions about vaccination would be the core of this initiative.

7.  Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program to all new mothers. The WIC nutritional program should be offered for free to all new mothers as they leave the hospital or clinic, with information about eligibility requirements and how to apply.  

8.  Health education in early school & childcare centers. Developing healthy habits in young children can pay off exponentially. Allocating 15-30 minutes per day to health education, say before lunch or recess, could hold young children’s interest and attention.  Costs would be low; this could be folded into existing curricular offerings.

9.  Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, including extending continuous eligibility for children. Medicaid expansion would extend insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, with federal coverage of 100% of the costs until 2020, and 90% thereafter.

10.  Mobile Care Clinics. Mobile clinics offer mental health support, reproductive health care, and other primary-care services.  



1.  Improve public transportation, expand housing options. Make bus stops more accessible (including widely visible route/schedule info) and align routes with jobs and homes of low/moderate-income riders. Encourage subsidized carpools.

2.  Supportive housing program for vulnerable. A program could provide housing for the homeless, mentally ill, substance abusers, and other vulnerable groups. Case managers could help facilitate temporary or extended housing. Similarly, funding Rapid Rehousing programs providing assistance to individuals who suddenly become impoverished, again with dedicated case manager support.  

3.  Housing Navigators program. Housing navigators are assigned to families to guide them through bureaucracy and support them in achieving and maintaining permanent housing. 

4.  Expand low-rate, single-room rental housing. City/state subsidies to refurbish homes, old motels or other unused buildings would create single rooms for rent at low rates, under specified circumstances (must be employed?) and periods, such as five years. Homes eligible for refurbishing could be foreclosures or long vacant/unsold properties. 

5.  Landlord incentives for Section 8/affordable housing.  Fine landlords in order to improve the conditions of current Section 8/affordable housing. As an incentive, offer landlord education on the economic benefits of adequate maintenance (and tangible improvements such as weatherproofing, low-flow appliances, and foam insulation).

6. “Ban the Box” for housing applications. Housing authorities should adopt Ban the Box, eliminating inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history on public-housing applications.  This would not preclude asking the question later, when the applicant’s circumstances can be considered as a whole. 

7.  Tax incentives for subsidized/low-income housing. Tax incentives (reduced development and improvement tax, e.g.) for developers who designate a percentage of housing units as subsidized or low-income.

8.  Financial literacy for public housing residents.  Programs teaching financial literacy/household budgeting are demonstrated to increase the likelihood of those in public housing moving to permanent housing. 

9.  Revitalizing unused/abandoned homes. Restoring boarded-up homes and working with landlords to bring unused dwellings up to acceptable standards would increase affordable housing options. 

10.  Volunteer-resident 1:1 weekly housing support program. This program would pair volunteers with an individual in public housing to provide resources, including transportation, to obtain permanent housing. Would aim to help overcome logistical barriers to permanent housing, including lack of efficient and affordable public transportation. 

11.  Incentivize smaller affordable-housing units. City/state incentives to a) developers, to build smaller affordable housing units, and b) homeowners, to create accessory dwelling units (ADU’s).  An ADU is a small, self-contained residential unit on the same lot as a single-family home; may be an addition to the home or a separate structure.



1.  Universal breakfast in class program.  Currently available in selected schools; extend to all Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools. Rather than means-testing, make available to all students: reduces stigma for needy recipients.

2.  Increase and expand food stamp values for healthy food and use at community markets. Encourage and match existing farmers’ market grants from the USDA, to boost the purchasing power of food stamps at local markets.  

3.  Serve food-insecure areas. Promote efforts to fill food deserts by A. attracting grocery stores; B. encouraging convenience stores or drug stores (existing neighborhood outlets) to carry fresh fruits/vegetables; and/or C. subsidizing regular food-truck presence in underserved neighborhoods.

4.  Neighborhood spaces.  Encourage access to schools and churches (when not in use) as gathering spots to educate communities on nutrition, cooking, gardening. 

5.  Social media advocacy for fighting hunger. Tech-savvy millennials, aided by city/county funds, would organize engaging social-media campaign to educate about/reduce incidence of hunger and food insecurity. 

6.  Public/private “Food Access Partnerships.” Such partnerships could be set up within neighborhoods (like BIDs in other cities), with a specific focus on enhancing nutritious food availability. 

7.  Expanded/enhanced Backpack Program. Review existing Forsyth Backpack Program, comparing with others around the state/region. As “best practices” are identified, seek added resources to expand a revised program as broadly as possible.

8. Targeted nutrition education programs. Organize nutrition education programs in food-insecure neighborhoods.

9.  Community gardens. Support thriving/expanded gardens in each geographic district of Winston-Salem. Ensure they are easily accessible to community members, and publicize creative ways to share gardens’ bounty. 

10.  Attract grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods. Work with local/regional grocery-store chains, such as Lowes, Walmart, Aldi, and Publix, to encourage them to locate stores in underserved neighborhoods. 

11.  Free meal distribution. Support programs like H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem, a volunteer effort that brings nutritious meals to neighborhood children on Sundays, the day not covered by federal lunch or Backpack programs.

12.  Farmers contribute produce to those who could not otherwise afford it. Support farmers who contribute a portion of crops to needy community members. 

13. Mandate (or encourage) healthy snacks/vending machines.  Support initiatives that require vending machines to carry healthier choices.  

14.  Expand Humans of Winston-Salem.  Expand existing Humans of Winston Salem program (photos chronicling local citizens), to include a lively website; publish (online and/or print) a book similar to Humans of New York, humanizing food-insecure people



1.  On-the-job training for high school students. Area companies could team with local schools and nonprofits to provide high-school students with on-the-job training and classroom education. Students meeting GPA/attendance requirements could serve as paid apprentices at a local firm, and where appropriate could attend relevant skills classes (like drafting or engineering) at local colleges, supported by participating companies.

2.  Align public transportation with irregular work schedules.  As with Housing and Health items above, improved public transportation—focusing on people with unpredictable work schedules—can genuinely enhance employment opportunities.

3.  Financial literacy programs. Publicly available programs teaching financial literacy/household budgeting are proven to enhance financial security and employment opportunities for people with incomes below the poverty line. Improving credit scores, retirement savings, and fiscal discipline are among the vital skills taught.

4.  Connect local organizations and high schools/technical schools. Engage local nonprofit organizations, colleges, high schools, and businesses to provide fulfilling destinations for graduates of local high schools and technical schools. Schools aware of local employers’ needs can fine-tune curricula accordingly.

5.  Publicize/incentivize second-chance employment (Ban the Box). Winston-Salem was an early adopter of second-chance employment (Ban the Box), but many eligible job candidates and employers are unaware. Public forums on Ban the Box, along with targeted public-service announcements, could be cornerstones for wider adoption locally. 

6.  Subsidized childcare for parents seeking jobs and job training. Program to assist low-income families who need child care, so unemployed parents are able to job-hunt or be trained.  Comparable programs vary in the length of time unemployed parents can use child care subsidies and how often job-search care can be approved in a given time period.

7.  Enable more students to pursue skilled/trade jobs.  Educate students (and parents) that skill-based jobs are a desirable employment option.  By changing secondary-school curricula as appropriate and reducing stigma at high schools, we can help more students find their passion early on. 

8.  Incentivize businesses to hire locally. City provides incentives for businesses to train/hire local citizens, keeping both investment and wages in Winston-Salem. Helps enhance the local environment for small businesses, creating more opportunities locally.

9. Link affordable housing to public transportation. Public-private program addressing our affordable-housing shortage by creating units accessible to bus services. Funding sources might include the city’s allocation under HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, housing set-aside funds from tax revenues, and fees from developers who opt not to create affordable units.

10.  Match job training/skills programs with local jobs.  City should partner with entities like Goodwill Industries to better match training programs with desired skills identified by local firms.

11. Year-round work for seasonal employees. Incentivize employers, including farms, schools/colleges, and retailers, who systematically lay off workers during summer months or off-season, to retain these workers in some capacity year round. Creating flex schedules or finding alternative opportunities would provide stability and year-round income. 

12.  Avoid “Benefits Cliff”; phase out benefits incrementally.  Even as raising the minimum wage attempts to serve low-wage workers, a slightly higher paycheck can cause workers to lose their federal benefits, including SNAP funds or housing subsidies. Support for phasing out benefits incrementally while slowly increasing the minimum wage would avoid this drastic ‘benefits cliff’ that may disincentivize work.