Progress report: What has anti-poverty initiative accomplished? – Democrat & Chronicle – January 3, 2016

Progress report: What has anti-poverty initiative accomplished?
By: David Riley

Let’s be clear up front: No one ever promised to solve poverty in a year.

That said, the first anniversary of the public debut of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative is just around the corner.

And after 12 months working in public view, it’s only fair to ask what the initiative has accomplished — whether its leaders have kept their commitments, demonstrated progress or inched this community any closer to alleviating a deep and complex problem that’s festered here for decades.

First, consider the objective. Readers may recall that the initiative rolled out with a sweeping mission: To eliminate local childhood poverty.

At that most basic level, initiative leaders have since refined their focus.

Ending poverty remains the overarching goal. But in the fall, initiative leaders set more measurable, if still very ambitious, targets: To cut local poverty 50 percent over the next 15 years, and to see more families become self-sufficient.

So what has the initiative done that might achieve these aims?

Its leaders spent much of 2015 gathering ideas and feedback from more than 1,000 people through a series of work groups, town hall meetings, surveys and private interviews. Among the participants, at times, were the people the initiative is supposed to help — the working poor.

The initiative also secured $6.5 million in funding, most of which has yet to be spent, and hired Director Leonard Brock and two other staff members.

All this culminated in a report in September that acknowledged that systemic barriers like structural racism are important factors in local poverty. It also offered a short list of broad initial recommendations and laid out next steps that the organizers hoped to achieve by the end of 2015.

The initiative’s leaders say they have since completed or made progress on many of those steps.

“There’s a lot of work that was done to lay the foundation, the groundwork for the work to come,” said Brock, who holds a doctorate of education in executive leadership and joined the initiative about six months ago.

But whether that’s a solid foundation is open to debate.

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