Leaders kick off anti-poverty initiative

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Some of the area's most influential residents were in the crowd of more than 200 people who jump started a countywide anti-poverty initiative Friday during a symposium hosted by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, officials say.

Called Strive 2 Thrive, the program focuses on poverty-stricken families and uses a model called "circles" developed by Scott Miller, a co-founder and CEO of Move the Mountain, a national anti-poverty organization.

Speaking at an anti-poverty symposium Friday, Miller discussed the program and how it focuses attention directly on the social relationships between those in poverty and those with means and resources to help pull them out.

"Our mission is to end poverty, not to just reduce it," Miller told the crowd. "But that means having a plan that surrounds those families in need with people who can bring their personal and professional experience to the table for everyone's benefit. For those with wealth to come to those without."

Miller said that programs in other states had shown that just throwing money at the problem wasn't solving anything. When you put those in need in connection with those who could satisfy those needs and allow those in poverty to work to pull themselves up, success rates dramatically improve, he said.

As a part of the symposium Friday, two local people in poverty, Kim and CeCe, each told their stories and answered questions about their lives and what they believe could help get them out of their current financial straits.

"If we had more support from the upper people, you know, the ones who have more than we do, if we got to know people in a higher status we may be able to elevate ourselves," said Kim, a mother of three who is currently working full time and pursuing her GED.

"I can't focus on the future because I only have enough money for

today," she said.

Miller pointed to roadblocks of getting people out of poverty, which include a lack of motivation or those who are comfortable being poor, lack of education and those who become discouraged when they do find a better paying job but one that brings in less income than subsidies did before they were employed.

After the city was named in Forbes as one of the poorest city's in the country, some of the area's top business leaders and stakeholders met and identified poverty as a key obstacle to improving the quality of life throughout the area.

Dwayne Myles, president of United Way of Southwest Georgia and a Strive 2 Thrive Committee member, said that contact needs to be made with some of the 900 or so non-profits throughout Dougherty County to ensure the needs of the public are being met efficiently.

"We're looking at a long-term program that creates a partnership with

those charitable organizations, social agencies and government entities to ensure that what we're doing is actually doing what its intended to do," he said. "We have to communicate with each other to make sure we're eliminating duplicate services and are fixing the problem, not creating a bigger one."

Miller showed the group statistics from various cities where the program had been implemented.

In Tupelo, Miss., a city of 70,000 people, over a span of 60 years leaders managed to turn a city that was once considered one of the poorest cities in one of the poorest states into one that -- for the last 18 years straight -- had generated 1,000 manufacturing jobs per year.

"Community development precedes economic development," Miller said. "If someone is built up and educated and motivated, those in industry will notice."