ALBANY, Ga. -- Eighteen months ago, some local officials had heard enough about the poverty situation in Albany. They were prepared to do something about it.
And they have.
Cynthia George, co-chairman of the Strive2Thrive initiative, addressed the Dougherty Rotary Club Tuesday to give an update on how the movement is going.
"If we don't address the problem, we don't need to be talking about education, crime or companies going out of business," George said of her motivation for getting involved with the anti-poverty initiative. "It made sense to me to get to the root of the problem.
George says there are thousands of people in Albany who have never know what it means to live above the poverty line.
"We can ignore the problem, but it will continue to get worse and it has," she said.
The initiative began late in 2009. In February, officials hosted an educational workshop for potential volunteers at Albany State University -- which was attended by 70 people.
Based on the principles of the national Move the Mountain initiative, Strive2Thrive is currently working with nine local families serving as pilot participants during a 17-week stint. At their regular meetings, each family has two or three volunteers with them to help adjust the circumstances that have held those families back -- which may include helping them find a job or getting a GED.
"We have been coaching them for 12 weeks now on how to do the basic things a family would," George explained.
After graduating from the first phase, dubbed "Getting Ahead," the volunteers, or the "allies," will maintain contact with the families over an 18-24 month period should they need assistance with certain tasks.
"Anything they need, we will help them," George said.
The initiative depends on willing volunteers and donors from the community.
"The only way we can do this is through human capital and funding," George said. "There are so many things that need to be done; we can't just do it with a handful of people."
During the meetings between the volunteers and the families, a lot of time has been spent learning about the barriers separating the social classes.
"There are things we need to understand about people in poverty," George said. "We need to break down those barriers so they (those in poverty) can function in a middle class world. To give them a new lease on life, we have to understand where they are coming from."
Officials pulled the pilot participants from a local family literacy group. In order to qualify, families are expected to go through an application and interview process. The next group, expected to be 12-15 families strong, will start the program in September.
Albany was named one of "America's Most Impoverished Cities" by Forbes.com last year. Roughly 25 percent of individuals and 39 percent of families in the area live in poverty. Fifty-nine percent of families in the region impacted by poverty are unemployed and 80 percent of students in the Dougherty County School System qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Those wishing to donate their time or money to Strive2Thrive can contact harriett Hollis with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce at (229) 434-8700.