The meeting last Friday in Grand Rapids determined one certainty in the ongoing regional campaign to reduce poverty in Michigan: It assured that the leadership of the Poverty Reduction Initiative and WMU's Lewis Walker Institute will continue to assist region 3 in a their efforts to reduce poverty in their 11 county district.
What started out as a 9 county coalition in Southwest Michigan is now a 20 county effort that extends from Berrien County in the Southwest corner, all the way to Osceola on the Northeast border. Though the two regions will have different leadership, objectives, and resources, they now will have a greater advantage to share information and work cohesively to reduce poverty on a greater scale.
On Friday, the PRI and Lewis Walker presented to the regions a framework of how to successful organize and implement a strategy for poverty reduction on a large scale. Lewis Walker Director Tim Ready gave a presentation on the poverty issues in West Michigan and presented a model of how to better analyze, combat and eventually reduce poverty in a way that works across county bounders. PRI's Jeff Brown gave the region a vision of how bring together major organizations and use their resources to press for resources towards improving the lives of the impoverished.
Leaders from close to thirty organizations who represented the region voted unanimously to continue working with the PRI and Lewis Walker by using their framework as a model to adapt to their region. Additionally, 4 participants volunteered to be regional leaders and will be responsible for directing the region towards fulfilling its objectives.
Region 3 identified these objectives as the highest priorities in reducing poverty for their counties:
- Expand access to early childhood education
- Increase Jobs
- Reduce homelessness and increase housing security
In the past, these differences would have been so polarizing that it would have been a rarity for a church in Lake County to open dialogue with the Kent County Department of Human Services. The regional poverty reduction work is changing all of that - it is bringing together organizations that wouldn't normally communicate and creating a "big picture" summary of poverty in the region.
If the leaders from region 3 are willing to put their time and effort into the cause, if they lend their ears to other positive work, they will discover a variety of ideas aimed at improving the lives of all Michigan residents.
The message of One Community has expanded. Now 20 counties will echo this message:
That we are one people and our prosperity and quality of life depend on all residents contributing fully to the economic, social and cultural life of our communities and our state.
We will not stand for anything less.