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February 18, 2015



Note: this news release from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is used with permission of the Center.

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, recognized today the Catawba County Social Services Child Wellbeing Project and the EcoComplex designed and maintained by Catawba County Utilities and Engineering as part of the 2015 Bright Ideas program. This year’s cohort includes 124 programs from all levels of government—school districts; county, city, state, and federal agencies; as well as public-private partnerships—that are at the forefront in innovative government action.

“Developed in collaboration with The Duke Endowment, The Child Wellbeing Project of Catawba County Social Services works with families when children leave foster care under age 16 for their reunified, guardianship or adoptive families,” said Dawn Wilson, Social Work Program Manager with Catawba County Social Services. “The goal is to help permanent placements remain stable and successful and improve well-being of children who have been in foster care. These families are offered a Success Coach, who works with them to assess their strengths and needs and enhance parenting, communication and other life skills.”

An Educational Advocate, who serves as a liaison between public schools and child welfare, works to improve the child's chances for academic success. She tracks educational progress, makes sure children have the tools they need, and arranges tutoring to help children who are struggling academically.

Catawba County Social Services is also the only public social services agency in North Carolina to utilize the Success Coach and Educational Advocate services. After four years of implementation, Catawba County and The Duke Endowment are planning to evaluate the impact of Success Coach services for reunified and guardianship families. Catawba was also awarded a State-funded contract to provide post-adoption Success Coach services for seven additional counties following a competitive grant process.

“The Catawba County Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility is a system designed to recover all useable products and by-products from a group of private and public partners located in a close-knit defined area,” said Barry Edwards, Catawba County Utilities and Engineering Director. “This group of partners works together to use each other’s waste products either as a source of energy (electricity, steam, or heat) or as a raw material for the production of their own product (pallets, lumber, compost). These shared relationships bring the old saying of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ into real life. In addition to these shared relationships, the EcoComplex is also focused on making and using “green” energy and on the economic development of Catawba County.”

Existing components of the EcoComplex include the Blackburn Landfill and its Landfill Gas-to-Energy system that burns the methane produced naturally in the landfill, generating enough electricity to power approximately 1,400 average size home. It includes a Biodiesel Research Facility recently privatized under the operation of Blue Ridge Biofuels and a Hmong Demonstration Center used as a horticultural demonstration site. Future projects could include a Biosolids (Sludge) Processing Facility, which would replace the existing Regional Sludge Management Facility, with the capacity to serve the wastewater sludge management needs of Catawba County and the Unifour region for approximately 20 years; and algae research based on the concept that algae can produce 50% oil, which can be used in biodiesel production and other features.

“The Bright Ideas program demonstrates that often seemingly intractable problems can be creatively and capably tackled by small groups of dedicated, civic-minded individuals,” said Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center. “As exemplified by this year’s Bright Ideas, making government work better doesn’t always require massive reforms and huge budgets. Indeed, we are seeing that, in many ways, an emphasis on efficiency and adaptability can have further-reaching effects than large-scale reforms.”

This is the fourth cohort recognized through the Bright Ideas program, an initiative of the broader Innovations in American Government Awards program. For consideration as a Bright Idea, programs must currently be in operation or in the process of launching and have sufficient operational resources and must be administered by one or more governmental entities; nonprofit, private sector, and union initiatives are eligible if operating in partnership with a governmental organization. Bright Ideas are showcased on the Ash Center’s Government Innovators Network, an online platform for practitioners and policymakers to share innovative public policy solutions.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Harsha
Associate Director for Communications, Ash Center

Margaret Allen
Social Services Public Information Officer

Jack Chandler
Assistant Director of Utilities and Engineering

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit