Survey: No simple answers to poverty

October 14, 2010 by

Sister Marcia Allen, standing at right, listens during Thursday's "working lunch" as Cameron Presler makes a point.

Sister Jean Rosemarynoski explains the process for a countywide poverty survey, while Sister Marcia Allen waits to offer her thoughts on the project during Thursday's lunch meeting at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

There were 30 questions on this summer’s countywide survey of people living in poverty — and even more as the results were discussed at the latest Community Needs Forum.

Fifty people attended the “working lunch” Thursday at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, to hear what people from throughout Cloud County had said on the survey about what services they use and what help they need.

In all, 77 surveys were returned. And while that is not enough of the 600 surveys it make it “statistically valid,” according to Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, it does represent nearly 1 percent of all the Cloud County adults who meet the federal poverty guidelines.

The four top services used by those responding involved food: food stamps, food banks, free and reduced school lunch programs and commodities that are distributed free.

Food programs also ranked No. 1 in terms of services that have been most helpful.

The top services these people in poverty say they need in Cloud County are all health related: Dental care and vision or hearing assistance.

But, said Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and a member of the poverty group within the Community Needs Forum that drafted the survey, “What we found, really, was that there is no general category of poverty; there are as many faces of poverty as there are people.”

Allen said she and the others who decided to try surveying people living in poverty “may have been naïve to believe we could categorize it; it is not a simple issue.”

Those at the meeting who work with local organizations providing services agreed.

Complications they cited included limited affordable and reliable child care, few “family wage” jobs, an unwillingness or inability to leave Cloud County for broader job possibilities, state regulations and red tape and even “pride that can keep families from asking for help.”

But for Everett Ford, the answer is simple.

To begin with, he said it was notable that only five of the 77 survey respondents were male.

Concordia School Superintendent Bev Mortimer explains the challenges ensuring that eligible families are matched up with services, as Sister Mary Jo Thummel, right, listens.

Ford, who has been a regular participant in the 12 working lunches so far, said the answer has to be “better jobs. We’ve got to get more jobs in here.”

Kirk Lowell, head of the local economic development agency Cloud Corp., agreed — but even that is not simple, he said.

Lowell cited the Kansas Inc. “County Economic Vitality and Distress Report,” which ranks the state’s 105 counties by relative economic performance.

In 2008, the newest report available, Cloud County tied for 99th place, which was actually an improvement over the 102nd place for 2007.

“Everything that’s proposed to come into this community, it’s fought,” he said. “No matter what the project or idea, there’s always going to be for and against. But we’ve got pitchforks and torches in the meeting room.”

Local government and community residents have to be more pro-business, Lowell argued. “When we get the opportunity, we need to jump on it.”

But even that is not the whole solution, he conceded: “If the person in need doesn’t seize the moment, there’s not much you can do.”

Two things that have been done over the past year, those attending the “working lunch” agreed, are the Concordia Year of Peace and the Community Needs Forum itself.

Part of this session was to ask participants if the community meetings, which began in January 2009, are still serving a purpose.

“This is the only forum that brings everyone together, and very good things have come out of this,” said Crystal Paredes. She noted that she and others have learned a great deal about programs available for women and children — and she praised the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph in launching the Neighbor to Neighbor center in downtown Concordia. “But we also noticed there aren’t the same kind of services for men.”

So she and others through the Concordia Christian Church are working to create “The Father’s House,” which will provide mentoring and positive role models for men in the community. The program is a direct outgrowth of discussions during the working lunches, she said.

The Year of Peace project, scheduled to conclude in December, is another direct outgrowth. And Rosemarynoski announced Thursday that it will continue through 2011. “We’re calling it ‘Another Year of Peace,’ and we’ll have new shirts,” she said with a laugh.

Lowell called the Year of Peace “the best thing that has happened in this community in 50 years; we can actually talk about some things.”

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