Where to go for help
No one can make it out of poverty on his or her own. It takes support from people and groups, said Lisa Furseth, executive director of Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties.
Likewise, the government, community groups and individuals all have to work together to reverse the poverty trends in Janesville, experts say.
Education is the key to escaping poverty, experts say. The government must provide quality public education at all levels.
Schools must make sure all students graduate, and they must promote all higher education options, ranging from four-year universities to two-year technical colleges, Furseth said.
“We need to refocus on technical education as a good, viable option,” she said.
The city must also make sure it has well-paying jobs to take advantage of residents’ skills and educations.
That’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum, said Doug Venable, Janesville’s economic development director. Companies want to locate where people have the skills they need, but communities must offer jobs that require certain skills to encourage residents to learn those skills.
Janesville’s economy is changing from a manufacturing focus to a service focus, he said. Laid-off manufacturing workers, such as those laid off from the General Motors plant this summer, have to be retrained to meet the needs of today’s employers.
Janesville will need skilled and semi-skilled workers such as accountants, engineers, salespeople and Web site developers in coming years, Venable said.
One of the fastest-growing sectors in Janesville is health care, he said. Mercy Health System is now the city’s top employer, and Dean Health System plans to build a new hospital in Janesville.
“Health care workers are going to continue to be in demand, and we should train for that,” Venable said.
“To the extent that we can have better-trained workers, then we can have better wages to help people out of poverty.”
Community organizations can support schools and colleges in their efforts to train residents. For example, Community Action’s Skills Enhancement Program offers money for books, uniforms, transportation and other expenses for clients attending school. The program serves about 40 families a year and increases income for participants by an average of $12,000 a year, Furseth said.
Local colleges also offer assistance for adults returning to school. For example, Blackhawk Technical College’s Wingspan program and UW-Rock County’s Project Ahead offer career counseling and other assistance to nontraditional students.
Other organizations, such as ECHO, Salvation Army and the YWCA, offer support for people in poverty attending school, such as transportation vouchers and subsidized child care.
But the organizations are only as helpful as the volunteers and donors who support them. Karen Lisser, ECHO executive director, told The Janesville Gazette in June that the organization was struggling to meet the community’s rapidly increasing needs.
When ECHO doesn’t have enough money, transportation assistance is cut first, she said.
In June, service providers in Rock County learned about Vision 2020, a statewide effort to end childhood poverty by the year 2020. At the meeting, participants suggested that organizations work together to streamline services and fill the gaps to meet the needs of Rock County’s poor.
Resources are available to help people in poverty, but they need to know about the resources and find the motivation to access them.
That’s where mentors—people who offer encouragement, advice and faith—come in, Furseth said.
Sometimes, just knowing someone cares is enough to motivate a child in poverty to make the right choices, stay in school and become a successful adult, Furseth said.
“We need to make sure every single kid has someone like that,” she said.
The Janesville School District and organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, 4-H and the Boys & Girls Club offer residents the chance to mentor children.
Adults need that push, too. For every story Furseth hears about someone escaping poverty, she knows at least one mentor stood behind that person, she said.
“Sometimes that’s a teacher, the local fire chief, somebody at church, a butcher,” she said. “It’s amazing the stories I’ve heard about who those people are.”
The community doesn’t have formal mentoring programs for adults, though organizations such as Community Action try to set people up with mentors informally, Furseth said.
“We’d love to get that set up more in a more formal, sophisticated way,” she said.
In the meantime, she encourages residents to look around them and see whom they can help.
“Anybody can do that in any moment,” she said.
Help is available for people in poverty, but they often don’t know how to find it.
First Call Rock County, a service of the United Way, offers 24-hour assistance. You can call the service at (608) 752-3100 or check online at www.firstcallrock.com.
Meanwhile, here is a sample of resources available in Janesville:
-- Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties: Community Action offers programs in employment, skills training, transportation, housing, energy, health care, housing, child care and family assistance.
Phone: (608) 755-2470
Address: 200 W. Milwaukee St., Janesville
-- ECHO (Everyone Cooperating to Help Others): This faith-based organization meets temporary food, housing, clothing, health, transportation and other emergency needs.
Phone: (608) 754-5333
Address: 65 S. High St., Janesville
-- House of Mercy: Mercy Health System runs this 30-day emergency homeless shelter for single women and families.
Phone: (608) 754-0045
Address: 320 Lincoln St., Janesville
-- Rock County Job Center: This building houses 11 state, county and other agencies. It administers economic, food, medical and child care assistance; offers long-term support for the elderly and disabled; and helps people find jobs, training and education.
Phone: (608) 741-3400
Address: 1900 Center Ave., Janesville
-- Salvation Army: This faith-based program offers food assistance (both a pantry and a meal site), clothing, motel vouchers for the homeless, a transitional living program for single adults, a landlord/tenant resource center and youth programs.
Phone: (608) 757-8300
Address: 514 Sutherland Ave., Janesville
-- UW-Rock County: The Project Ahead program advises low-income adults looking to return to school about financial aid, school programs and career choices. You do not have to enroll in UW-Rock County to use the free service.
Phone: (608) 758-6523
Address: 2909 Kellogg Ave., Janesville
-- YWCA Rock County: The organization focuses on “eliminating racism and empowering women.” It offers child care, a battered women’s shelter, the Transitional Living Program for homeless women who have been victims of abuse, Hispanic outreach and the Women’s Center for women looking to learn new skills, find jobs or return to school.
Phone: (608) 752-5445
24-hour Helpline: (608) 752-2583
Address: 1735 S. Washington St., Janesville