Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce next week will start an initiative to reduce poverty within the community, said Chamber officials Wednesday.

The chamber's Strive 2 Thrive initiative will start as a summit on Dec. 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn, with registration, which is $10, beginning at 8:30 a.m and the program at 9 a.m.

Catherine Glover, chamber president and CEO, said that everyone who is interested in assisting in the initiative is welcome.

"We hope this will help our community become stronger and more self sufficient," she said. "This particular program is one that we believe will be successful."

Glover said the initiative will work to form a network of non-profits, individuals and businesses that are dedicated to ending poverty in Albany.

"It is a mentoring process," she said. "Those families that we help will then go to other families as mentors and continue the cycle."

John Culbreath, who has volunteered to co-lead the Strive 2 Thrive initiative, said poverty's negative impact on Albany is hard to ignore.

"We've always seen a connection," he said. "The wonderful thing about this program is that we don't have to re-invent the wheel."

The most recent poverty-related figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the seriousness of the problem in Dougherty County. According the the bureau's 2008 estimates, 9,120 Dougherty County residents under the age of 18 -- 35.9 percent -- were living in poverty. For children ages 5-17, 5,843 -- 33.2 percent -- were in families in poverty in 2008.

Culbreath said the model of the anti-poverty program that the chamber is adopting has been shown to work in other communities.

Cynthia George, who will also co-lead the initiative, said the point of the program is to eradicate poverty.

"It is a call to action," she said. "(At the summit) we are going to come together as a community to hear about what are issues are and how we are going to address them."

George said the program will begin with families who are facing economic hardship.

"We have to deal with the family unit," she said. "Everything starts at home."

Glover said Strive 2 Thrive will be an ongoing initiative of the Chamber. "It's going to be one family at a time," she said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

George said she hopes the community can come together to fight against poverty. "This whole summit is a wake-up call," she said. "We have to do something."

Individuals interested in attending the Strive 2 Thrive summit can register at the chamber's Web site at www.albanyga.com. Those wishing to attend must register by Monday.