By Ken DeLaat
Some of us hear about it, read about it and even see it from time to time.
And others among us live there.
People we might know or meet as we pass through our lives. Members of our community who work jobs, pay their bills as best they can and do whatever is necessary to get by. They are families with children who struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their heads because minimum wage and even steps above minimum wage simply does not provide enough resources to do much more than just hang on.
And sometimes not enough for that.
And whether you’re living in a house with another family or two, visiting the food trucks to stretch the grocery budget or doing without some of the things those of us not entrenched in poverty take for granted, it is tough.
On top of it, the stereotype of folks who are struggling remains intact in many segments of our society. The less fortunate are blamed for their plight. Understanding their situation is challenging to those who are unacquainted with what it might be like to wonder where you will stay tonight or whether you will eat today.
Poverty is like quicksand. The more you attempt to do what it takes to climb out the more you are pulled down into the mire.
Finding a place to rent in Newaygo County, while a rough go under any circumstances, creeps closer to highly unlikely when combined with additional financial challenges.
Child care issues, health care concerns , transportation roadblocks, and other obstacles add to our community’s framework for poverty.
Then as efforts are made to improve your family’s quality of life with a new job and perhaps added income there is the Cliff Effect.
The Cliff Effect is when the resources needed to survive can be lost because the income has inched above the eligibility line. When assistance programs like child care subsidies and Medicaid remove benefits faster than people can earn enough income to replace them. By not pro-rating the exit ramp to these programs, the government creates a financial crisis for people as they earn more income.
Circles Newaygo County is an initiative launched earlier this year aimed at reducing poverty in Newaygo County. They do this by creating networks across social class lines. They’ve come to find that people who are struggling do not often have the wealth of resources and connections that those of the middle class do. By pairing up participants, called Circle Leaders, with middle to upper class volunteers, called Allies, these networks are shared and friendships are formed.
Circle Leaders are people who are working to become economically self-sufficient. Their goals can vary widely from homeownership to job retention to furthering education. They are called “Circle Leaders” because through this process, they are empowered to lead themselves out of poverty, toward the goals they set.
“Allies” work with their Circle Leader to figure out how to accomplish their plan for self-sufficiency. The toughest challenge an Ally faces is the instinct to “rescue” a Circle Leader. The Circle Leader cannot learn to cope with the hurdles that block their pathway if a well-meaning Ally tries to fix their problems for them. Instead, the Ally’s role is to walk beside the Circle Leader, helping them link to the resources and support necessary for the Circle Leader to be successful.
On Thursday June 29th the Big View event highlighted the work being done by Circles. It brought together leaders, allies. and community members to celebrate accomplishments, problem-solve current concerns and discuss solutions. The evening began with a shared meal and a few words from Circles Coordinator Michelle Marciniak and Fremont Mayor Jim Rynberg, then settled into the business at hand.
Facilitated by Fremont Area Community Foundation President and CEO Carla Roberts each table was given discussion items that focused on barriers in Newaygo County. The interactive exercise led to a group discussion that ran from possible initiatives in the community to recommendations on individual issues. The mood was upbeat and positive. There was a sense of pride as leaders and allies shared the “News & Goods” in their lives, focusing on the progress made in their journeys.
State Representative Scott Vansingel attended and came away impressed.
“I enjoyed meeting face to face with the people who benefit from the Circles program,” he stated. “It helps to dispel many of the myths surrounding poverty and I look forward to seeing the positive impact this program has on the community in the coming years.”
Poverty in Newaygo County is real and Circles serves to not only recognize its presence but to empower those caught up in the cycle to emerge from its trappings. Circles is not a program. Circles is people. People from our community who share a common goal of reducing poverty and are committed to doing the work it takes to accomplish that goal.
And from the observations made during the Big View?
It seems to be working.
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”-Nelson Mandela
For more information on how to get involved contact Michelle Marciniak at 231.924.0641 ext 220 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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