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Officials to Community: Do Your Part to Help Curb Poverty

Scott Harvey
Citizens examine data charts Thursday that city officials presented during this summer's "Zone Blitz" or Community Listen Sessions.

Officials hope to reduce the poverty level in Greene County to 15 percent by the year 2025. The goal was addressed Thursday as part of a series of presentations assessing the region’s health.

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
Dawn Lockhart of the 1,000 in 1,000 program delivered the keynote address Thursday at the Springfield Art Museum Auditorium.

“The reason this is an ambitious goal is not only because we are proposing to reduce the amount of poverty by five percent over the next decade, but also because we are reversing a trend.”  

Springfield City Manager Greg Burris says that should the status quo remain, the county’s current 20 percent poverty level will continue to rise.

Burris co-chaired the Impacting Poverty Mission. He said the group has created recommendations that cover a funding source for early childhood education, case management and Medicaid expansion, shelter needs and chronic nuisance properties, develop a talent pipeline incubator, and focus on public safety, among other action items.

Burris delivered his report before some 400 people who packed the Springfield Art Museum Auditorium to also hear about the city’s Zone Blitz initiative and the Community Focus Report 2015. A panel of community leaders from the fields of education, religion and state government then fielded questions on appropriation action items, and Dawn Lockhart of the nonprofit Family Foundations delivered the keynote address.

Lockhart leads the 1,000 in 1,000 program in Jacksonville, Florida, which aims to move 1,000 people out of poverty every 1,000 days, which Burris says Springfield officials have been studying.

“The way it’s influenced the Impacting Poverty Commission’s report, is that we started looking at what are the causes of poverty, rather than just addressing the symptoms. Because until we address the causes, the symptoms are just gonna continue to grow the way they have been now,” said Burris.

Poverty is an underlying issue for a lot of the challenges outlined in the Community Focus Report 2015, some of which the report’s facilitator, Dr. Christina Gilstrap, touched on Thursday.

“28 percent of local students are not prepared to enter kindergarten... you will also see in the report that only 34.2 percent of Springfield residents are likely to trust their neighbors most or all of the time.”  

Other statistics show that 54.6 percent of students in Springfield Public Schools  are in the free and reduced lunch program, and that local funding for early childhood education in 2014 was $2.1 million, down from $3 million in 2012.

The Community Focus Report, released every two years, serves as an education and assessment tool and is a primary resource in guiding local programs, initiatives, funding and decision making. You can view the full report here.

Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU
The Stanley and Elaine Ball Foundation has agreed to match a$500,000 commitment from Community Foundation of the Ozarks to CFO's new Northwest Program.

The report is broken into blue ribbons, or strengths, and red flags, or challenges. In addition to poverty, red flags included insufficient funding, and looming threats to civic infrastructure.

Often referenced throughout the day was the region’s strong community collaboration culture, cited as a blue ribbon in the report.

Attendees were encouraged to provide their contact information, visit the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Cause Momentum page and donate your time or money, and become a member of the city’s various Zone Blitz committees that have emerged since this summer’s sessions in north Springfield.

The day also featured a major announcement from CFO President and CEO Brian Fogle. The organization has launched the Northwest Project, which aims to move families out of poverty and into a sustainable financial state by creating a comprehensive and collaborative system for addressing individual causes and solutions for overcoming poverty. CFO is dedicating $500,000 to the program in the first five years. On Thursday, it announced that the Stanley and Elaine Ball Foundation has agreed to match that $500,000 commitment.  

City Manager Burris concluded his speech by sharing his belief that the community is at a tipping point, and is afraid that only some of us know it.

“You’ve now been infected. You’re infected with knowledge. You’ve seen the statistics. It’s going to be a hard conversation – it’s gonna be hard to talk about. But I do know that not talking about it is not an option. So if not now, when? And if not us, who?”