The following is a summary of a panel discussion about poverty in Fulton County that took place March 23, 2017. The forum took place at the Canton Church of the Brethren and was moderated by Pastor Kevin Kessler. Panelists included Missy Kolowski of the Health and Wellness Clinic of Fulton County, Rolf Siversten Superintendent CUSD #66, Paster Monroe Bailey of the First Baptist Church, Brooke Denniston Executive Director of the YWCA, Paula Grigsby Executive Director of the YMCA, Rhonda Morgan from the Salvation Army and Teri Williams director of Spoon River Pregnancy Center.
This third post highlights remarks made by our panelists exploring solutions to poverty in our county.
Question 1 – What is your role or the role of the organization you represent in helping to alleviate poverty (how are you serving the needs of those living in poverty)
Missy Kolowski (Health & Wellness Clinic of Fulton County) –
- Champ: We started out as a clinic 8 years ago and changed with the passing of the Affordable Care Act. One of the things I see is that our former patients through ACA were able to get a doctor and were diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol for the first time, but suddenly they were on a diet they could not afford. Many times these special diets cost a lot more money. The medicine is only one part of treatment, there´s so much more to it. We started a program called ¨Champ” that will allow them to go into the store and buy the foods they need for their special diet.
Rolf Siversten (Superintendent CUSD #66) –
- Pre-K Programs: From an educational standpoint, our most important program our institution provides to alleviate poverty is to get as many at risk children in pre-K programs as possible. Jason Parsons, who is our curriculum director, has worked very hard to expand those programs. Unfortunately those programs are heavily dependent on the state and we know how dysfunctional our state is funding those programs.
- Social Workers: We also provide social workers for children that suffer from social-emotional problems that are living in poverty.
- Parental Involvement: We try to get parents involved in the schooling of our children. Research indicates the number 1 factor regardless of socioeconomic status is the involvement of parents in their child’s schooling.
- Teacher Training: We train our teachers who deal with children at risk to emphasize what is good about them. Making folks that are living in poverty feel welcome in school. Emphasizing the importance of education so students who are at risk understand it´s a quick way out of poverty.
- College Affordability: Also our school is looking at ways to provide a college education at a more affordable cost. A $20,000 college a year is out of the reach of folks that are raised in poverty. We emphasize Math and Science in our educational curriculum in particular for those that are preparing to go to college.
Monroe Bailey (First Baptist Church) –
- Creating new Foundations: We address the drug and alcohol problems and working with those who are dealing with jail time how to get a good foundation and how to get back their lives and everyday living. People are needing to get on a good foundation in every area of their life, whether it’s raising children or having a good relationship with your husband or wife.
- Counseling: We provide counseling for family members and their children. I am on the board of the pregnancy center and work with Rhonda at the Salvation Army.
- Getting to Know Them: The thing that I´m finding is we have to still see the people. A lot of times we’re working with the problem, but we don’t see the people. They have to begin to know that they matter. They need to know not only that they matter to me or to you, but they matter to God. Sometimes they think God has deserted them. But even in their nest they begin to say, ¨God is there.¨ Hope begins to come. But you have to get to know them to see a change.
Brooke Denniston (YWCA) –
- Child Development Center: We don´t receive funding so we fundraise to try and impact our operating budget without raising fees for childcare and preschool. Along with being the most affordable childcare in Canton, we are the highest state rated. We think it’s important that everyone has equal access to the best.
- Biggest challenge for the YWCA: Many of our own employees are not earning a living wage as a direct result of us not charging higher rates. We struggle to do both.
- The importance of early childhood education: We’re fighting the war on poverty with early childhood education. Children from professional families are exposed to 45 million words by the age of 4. Children from working class families only hear about 22 million. Children in poverty are exposed to 13 million. 2/3rds of poverty stricken households do not possess a single book developmentally appropriate for a child under 5. These early disadvantages are only compounded by the inability to have equal access to preschool education. There are only so many seats at the free preschool so we’re striving to try and meet those needs. But between all of the preschools, we still have 1/3rd of the Kindergarten classes who have never had early childhood education. Adults who participate in these programs show lower crime rates and enjoy higher pay rates.
Paula Grigsby (YMCA) –
- Offering free services: One of the things we’re most proud of is our policy that no one is denied our services because of inability to pay. While there are people that could use our services that do not come, we want to be open to the whole community. It´s important to the health and well-being of everyone to get exercise, to socialize, to meet other children and play.
- Preschool and Afterschool activities: We focus on healthy eating and physical activities in our preschool and afterschool programs. We try to serve the healthier foods and snacks to help give kids more of the things they need.
- Summer Activities: Our summer food program includes a 12-week program where children get a nutritious lunch and activities by our staff at Wallace Park.
Rhonda Morgan (Salvation Army) –
- Programs for all ages: The Salvation Army celebrated their 125th anniversary in our community this year. Not only is it a church, but it is also a social service. We try to meet as many needs as we can through our worship, children´s activities, and young adult programs.
- Food Pantry: We also do a food pantry that is every 30 days. The other food pantries in our community are weekly.
- Pathway of Hope: We have a program called Pathway of Hope which is my primary responsibility. We walk alongside the individual helping them set goals they can attain within a year, helping them identify steps that it will take to reach those goals. I don’t set these goals, the individual sets these goals. Maybe they want to stop smoking or get a job or get a GED. They identify them and we try to keep them attainable within that 12 month block. Sometimes they’re not attainable within 12 months. That doesn’t mean we abandon them, we keep trying to put them down in baby steps so we can be their champion, their accountability person. But they have to want to make that change.
- Being their champion: For people that don´t know what this is like, we are asking them to move to Mars. Most of us do not want to do change. Even if it means putting your pants on or your socks on a different way or wearing your watch on a different wrist. Most of us are opposed. We are asking them to pack up everything and move to Alaska. To abandon the relationships that they’ve had with people that have been their support system and completely trust us into carrying them into this next step. We try to be that partner, that champion, that advocate to help them walk through predatory landlords, predatory lending systems. Systems that they don´t understand so they can get to the next step.
Teri Williams (Spoon River Pregnancy Center)
- Earn while you learn programs: The programs we have are all based on an earn while you learn curriculum. We show them that #1 they can do this. We give them value, stability, and provide transportation. They take the class for free and earn their points that they can spend on things they want or need for their families (Ex: diapers, books, clothes, or save up their points and take home something big). Our center was donated $1,500 of Usborne books that families can now use for earn as you learn.
- Fatherhood Programs: April 12th we’re starting a fatherhood program at IL River Correctional Center with father´s who are a year of being removed from the correctional prison. I can’t think of a better time to let us help them learn fathering skills so when you go back you can even be a better dad.