United Way hosts brainstorm session on ending childhood poverty

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By Harold Reutter
People who gathered for a brainstorming session on ending childhood poverty came up with about a half-dozen categories fighting poverty in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties.
The brainstorming session was organized by the Heartland United Way, which is sponsoring two more sessions today at Home Federal Bank on Stolley Park Road, with the first session starting at 11:30 a.m. and the second at 4 p.m.
Tuesday afternoon’s meeting was moderated by Kayla Schnuelle, an independent mediator who asked a series of questions to get people thinking about what might be done to end or lessen childhood poverty in the four-county area served by the Heartland United Way.
Among the ideas mentioned were having free — or least affordable — public transportation as well as access to WiFi; access to quality, affordable child care for young people ages six weeks to 13 years; wellness for kids and their families; being empowered to thrive; enhancing financial stability; having expanded business-education partnerships; providing safe and affordable housing for every family; and having an accessible and helpful “one-stop shop” where people could find out about services they need.
While these were the broad categories, brainstormers Tuesday also came up with some specific suggestions under each category, such as having bus, Uber and cab service as part of affordable transportation.
While accessible, affordable child care is an overall need, people also believed there is a need for specific kinds of day care, such as day care when kids are sick, 24-hour day care and day care that is provided at work and also at school.
Again, wellness for kids and families was an overall goal, but some of the more specific ideas included having school-based wellness centers, provide free meals for all students, planning neighborhood and urban gardens around all schools, and prescreening children for development disabilities at GIPS schools.
Some of the ideas under empowered to thrive include providing access to mental health centers and services, providing every family or every impoverished family with a team of mentors, and providing mentoring for all kids. Being empowered would also include possessing basic life skills in areas such as finance, communications and nutrition.
Enhancing financial stability would include providing people with access to training centers and trade schools to upgrade their skills, having employers provide a livable wage and perhaps providing incentives for those who increase wages. Expansion of business education partnerships could include employers who provide apprenticeships so college is not the only option for high school graduates or other people who want to increase their skills.
Having safe, affordable housing means providing a diversity of housing that includes not only single-family homes, but also rental options.
One of the ideas for a helpful “one-stop shop” includes upgrading the existing 211 system, which is a free, multilingual hotline providing information about community resources to the public. Another idea was to provide some type of electronic or digital system about community resources and providing some kind of matchmaking system for people who need services.
Near the beginning of the session, Schnuelle asking people to name innovative and exciting resources that already exist when it comes to fighting childhood poverty. She asked people a similar question, which was to name initiatives and programs that are devoting resources to fighting childhood poverty. Schnuelle then moved things forward by asking people to think about the question, “If we came together as a community, what would we want to see in place 10 to 15 years from now as a result of our work.”
Heartland United Way President Karen Rathke asked people to not quit brainstorming just because Tuesday’s meeting had ended.
While all the ideas generated during the three brainstorming sessions would be part of a Poverty Summit to be hosted by the Heartland United Way on Friday, Nov. 3, Rathke said she is open to hearing any additional ideas on combating childhood poverty that individuals may come up with on their own prior to the summit.