I was at an anti-poverty summit today, sponsored by Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County.
The activities centered around how we could eliminate poverty in a county where nearly one in four children lives below the national poverty level, an income of $22,050 for a family of four. In reality, it takes double that to be able to make ends meet here.
Parents struggle with unsafe housing, low wages, few good food choices, little or no health care for themselves, inadequate child care and a social services system that’s confusing, seemingly uncaring and traps them in poverty.
We told each other stories of families we knew — or our own families, and talked about what we might be able to do to change those stories.
We started with ideas: a home visit by a nurse to every new parent, plus a guide to parenting resources; community centers where people could go for help and rise to become volunteers and community leaders themselves; child-care cooperatives at the community college and in the community that would offer parents training in child care and age-appropriate toys and materials to promote optimal early brain development; community gardens, or trucks that sell fresh fruits and vegetables that travel to neighborhood that have no grocery stores or farm stands; access to safe recreation; help navigating the social services system; programs with rules that are flexible enough to accommodate different families and cultures, and of course, access to quality health care for children and their parents.
There were a couple hundred ideas posted on the walls before we were done.
We talked about the “benefits cliff” that removes assistance before people are ready. For example, someone who works overtime and makes a few extra dollars just winds up having to pay it in housing because the rent is tied to income, or taking away child care subsidies as soon as a mother finds work. People can’t get ahead; they feel trapped.
We were asked to illustrate our vision of what the county could look like in five years if our solutions were implemented — but we also had to talk about how they might be implemented. Who would work together to get a visiting nurse into the home of every new parent? Who would be responsible for putting together a parenting resource guide? Who would operate the community resource centers in our dream community?
At the end of the day, we were asked to write a statement of our vision. This is my group’s statement:
“We share the value of strong families and recognize the interdependence of our community. We choose to be bold and build innovative and efficient resource networks that nurture a holistic, healthy, sustainable and abundant life for all.”
It will take bold action to fix our communities and clean up the mess left by corporate greed, but we can do it, one community at a time.
Tomorrow, summit participants will talk about how we do it here.