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Community Action Services: Rethinking poverty helps community members provide support

By Tom Hogan - Community Action Services and Food Bank | Oct 16, 2021

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Poverty has a powerful impact on individuals and families, and people in Utah are not immune from its effects. Approximately 8% of Utahns were living in poverty in 2019 — nearly 300,000 residents. In your own life, a neighbor, coworker, or family member could be fighting their way out of poverty. Your child’s classmate could be dealing with it as well–about 88,000 of those in poverty were children.

Poverty is a complex issue, and community involvement is key to addressing it. In Utah County, programs are available to help individuals improve their own situation and for others to be allies and provide a support system. The Circles program pairs people in poverty with middle-class allies to lean on. Allies also participate in the Bridges Out of Poverty program to educate themselves about poverty and how to help. Here are a few things the Bridges program can teach community members.

Rethink Poverty

In the Bridges Out of Poverty program, community members learn to rethink poverty. Brent Hutchison is the Circles coordinator for Circles Utah Valley and a lifetime certified trainer for Bridges Out of Poverty. In his experience, people have a tendency to view poverty as something that affects “others.” “Instead of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, people need to understand that poverty affects everyone in some way,” Hutchison says. “When people understand the causes of poverty and understand the experiences of individuals living in poverty, they can tackle the issue and prevent more problems down the road.”

According to Hutchison, it is important to create an environment of working together for a solution. “Everyone faces similar issues in life, and people can share tools and collaborate to solve them.”

Systemic Roadblocks

It is common for people to think that individuals in poverty just need to work harder to improve their situation. McKay Strong works with the Bridges program and has taught some classes teaching about poverty. In the Bridges program, instructors like Strong educate students about the factors influencing poverty and what makes it difficult to escape.

“It’s not about laziness or inability to work,” Strong says. Systemic barriers and life experiences impact a person’s decisions and ability to improve their finances. Rather than putting away money into a nest egg, those in poverty are often in constant crisis, dealing with one situation after another and just trying to survive. The Bridges program helps community members see how people in poverty live and understand the obstacles they face.

Community Matters

Good relationships are crucial to success, and the Bridges program provides a support system for people in poverty. While achievements like particular degrees are important to the middle class, Strong says good relationships are important to people in poverty. “Those relationships can provide a safety net for them.” Community Action Services connects individuals and families in poverty with middle class allies in the community through programs like Circles and Bridges Out of Poverty. In the Bridges program, middle-class allies can learn more about how poverty impacts people and how to be a support for others to lean on.

Poverty is not a problem that affects a few individuals. It is a community issue that can be improved as people work together to lift each other up and provide a support system. Through programs like Circles and Bridges Out of Poverty, people can learn how to help themselves and others address poverty.

Tom Hogan is the COO of Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. CASFB is located at 815 S. Freedom Blvd., Ste. 100. For more information on educational programs, how to make donations, upcoming classes, food drives and more, visit communityactionuc.org or call (801) 373-8200.

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