Volunteers step up to design anti-poverty program

May 16, 2012 by

More than a dozen participants of the ongoing Community Needs Forum stepped forward Wednesday to tackle one particular community need – helping people lift themselves out of poverty.

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Finding ways to fight poverty has been one of the topics of serious discussion since the Sisters of St. Joseph began hosting the forums and “working lunches” in January 2009, but Sister Marcia Allen noted Wednesday that no solid proposals had really gelled.

So a contingent of sisters and Motherhouse staff visited other Kansas cities that have joined the national Circles Campaign or adapted the Circles idea to fit local needs.

Jennifer Stull, who works in the sisters’ Neighborhood Initiatives office, was part of that contingent and gave the report during Wednesday’s lunch.

One of the major goals in a successful anti-poverty program, Stull said, was to change the focus from a “hand out” to a “hand up.”

One major indicator of community poverty, Stull noted, is the percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches. In the Concordia School District, that number is 55 percent. In the Southern County School District, it’s 62 percent. For all of Cloud County, it works out to 57 percent, compared to 47 percent for the entire state of Kansas.

She also cited the 2010 Census, which showed 17.4 percent of all Cloud County residents — or about 1,660 people — living below the federal poverty level.

The communities Stull and the rest of the group visited face similarly challenging demographics, she said, but there were also differences — including larger populations.

“What we saw were places with a population of closer to 20,000,’ she said. “That’s where Circles were working.”

Based on their visits and other research, the small group put together a recommendation for those attending Wednesday’s working lunch. Rather than joining the national Circles Campaign, the group proposed:

  • Recruiting volunteers to form a core committee
  • Having that core committee create a smaller scale program based on some of the principles of the Circles Campaign, combined with ideas from various experts
  • Identifying and then interviewing people in Concordia to assess their actual needs and interest in participating
  • Building a curriculum around the needs that were identified
  • Recruiting participants in the new program, and then launching it.

Of about 45 participants at the working lunch, more than a dozen volunteered to be part of the core committee — and a number of them had suggestions already.

Everett Ford, who has been a regular forum participant, said that while gathering information from national groups is valuable, a locally designed program would work best because “one size does not fit all.”

Pastor Tessa Zehring of the United Methodist Church said that many people get frustrated with anti-poverty programs “when they’re a hand-out. If you can show this is a hand-up, then you can get community support.”

Others said they particularly liked the idea of a small program that can grow as needed.

Sister Marcia Allen said she will be in touch with everyone who volunteered to set up a meeting of core committee members. Anyone interested in joining the committee is encouraged to contact her at 243-2149 or mallen@csjkansas.org.

Other items on Wednesday’s agenda were a variety of reports:

  •  The Year of Peace Committee is planning what committee member Patrick Sieben called a “Poolapalooza” — an ice cream social and pool party at City Park, co-sponsored by the city and at least one other organization. The party is tentatively scheduled for the evening of July 28.
  •  The Year of Peace Committee is also partnering for the second year with the Concordia Police Department on National Night Out, which is set for Aug. 7. This nationwide event, now in its 29th year, is designed to bring neighbors together for cookouts, potlucks and similar activities. Anyone interested in organizing a neighborhood party may contact Beth Weddle at 243-2113, ext. 1223, or eweddle@csjkansas.org.
  •  The Cancer Support Group, for patients, survivors, family members and other caregivers, continues to meet on the third Tuesday of every month at the Nazareth Motherhouse. Sister Janice Koelzer asked participants to help get the word out to people who might benefit from the group support. For details, contact Jane Wahlmeier at 243-2113, ext. 1101, or jwahlmeier@csjkansas.org.
  •  Marla Jorgensen announced — to a round of applause — that she has purchased the Huckleberry Tea House in downtown Concordia and expects to reopen the restaurant sometime this summer.

The next working lunch is scheduled for Aug. 1. The quarterly gatherings provide an opportunity for updates on projects and a clearinghouse for new ideas. You do not have to have attended an earlier session to join the process. For information or to be added to the email “reminder list,” contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski at 243-2149 or sisterjean@csjkansas.org.






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