Janesville53.2°

Rock County groups come together to tackle poverty

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David Brazy
June 10, 2011
— Emily Pope has a problem.

As a housing program manager with Edgerton Outreach, she works with families who have trouble paying their rent or finding housing. Many of the families need counseling, Pope said.


But the closest available therapists are in Janesville, and many of the families have no transportation. Pope could drive the parents, but she can’t legally transport children, who often need counseling the most.


Enter Michelli Higgs.


She is a preschool teacher with Lutheran Social Services and happened to be sitting next to Pope on Thursday afternoon at the Rock County Homelessness Intervention Task Force’s seminar on poverty.


Higgs told Pope her organization has a therapist who makes house calls to the Edgerton area.


“That’s great! I have a family in mind who could really use it,” Pope said.


The two were among a variety of people who work with those in poverty brought together at the seminar.


“It is all about networking,” Pope said.


The events speaker and task force social worker Ann Forbeck said its essential that groups work together.


“Its hard sometimes to explain to the business community that we all work together to serve the people,” Forbeck said. “It’s a different model than they are used to.”


The seminar was based on the work of Donna Beegle, a nationally known writer and speaker on poverty.


Forbeck said Beegle’s teachings focus on getting education and training for people who are caught in poverty.


“If they are just accessing programs that are available to them, they will never get out of poverty.” Forbeck said. “I hope this lays the framework for us, as a country, to start moving people out of poverty, rather than simply keep them at a level of survival.”


Forbeck tried to dispel myths and stereotypes surrounding poverty, such as the belief that the poor are lazy or don’t want to work. Forbeck said on average two-thirds of people living in poverty work 1.7 jobs.


During a discussion at her table, Jessica Schafer, client advocate with ECHO, said part of the problem with poverty is people don’t realize how widespread it is. She was shocked to learn about the amount of poverty in Janesville and the surrounding areas.


Poverty will continue to be on the radar of community organizations as they plan on putting together an “Opportunity Conference” for people in Rock County.


Sheryl Hooker, a Janesville volunteer with Poverty Bridge, said the conference would provide encouragement to people living in poverty and set them up with a navigator who would help guide them through their goals to achieving a better life.


“Their whole life they have been treated like they are not special,” Hooker said. “We want to show them there is hope.”



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