Poverty Reduction Initiative plans activities in Osceola County

OSCEOLA COUNTY - When Jeff Brown, a community organizer with Voices for Action, visited the area a few weeks ago, he came hoping to help local like-minded residents get fired up about helping reduce the causes of poverty throughout the area.

He did a good job.

One Osceola County representative of the Poverty Reduction Initiative, county commissioner Larry Emig, believes there will be very practical outcomes to the gathering in Big Rapids - at least in raising awareness to a situation of which many people are simply more comfortable ignoring.

“Organizers with the state Department of Human Services are very interested in getting people better educated about the root causes and affects of poverty throughout Michigan,” explained Emig. “The PRI program is a result of an educational program held down in Detroit that really was designed to create awareness of the situation from the bottom up, not from the top down — at a grass roots level.”

Attending the Detroit event with some 30-40 people from the Mecosta-Osceola area a few years back, Emig, representing the Human Services Collaborative Body, was impressed with the programs declared goals.

The later session in Big Rapids reenforced his desire to “do something.”

Emig is looking forward to helping build awareness programs in Osceola County.

“I’m one of a group of people that will be the steering committee team for action programs in our area,” he pointed out.

“Voices for Action and our local group hope to develop programs that will identify goals and develop ideas that will ultimately help reduce the affects of poverty in our “neighborhood.” We may not ever “cure” poverty, but we can help reduce some of the symptoms.”

Emig noted his group hoped to help create programs that were “... more long lasting and sustainable” than previous programs or existing initiatives.

“The goal of the PRI is not to just feed someone everyday, as through food pantry efforts, but also to show people how to feed themselves and take better care of their lives as they work through the issue of poverty on a personal level,” he noted.

The PRI program affecting Osceola County is part of a larger “whole” — Region Three.

“There are already some counties within our region that have action programs up and running,” Emig pointed out. “Our immediate area has been a bit slow in getting things going.

“Attending this recent gathering in Big Rapids, and a couple of meetings previous to that, got a group of us fired up to really start working on the project rather than just giving it lip service.

‘We needed to start doing something.

“The whole point is to connect local, sate, and federal poverty reduction activities, and maximize economic opportunities.”

Following the larger gathering and think-tank sessions, representatives of local groups reconvened a few weeks after the Big Rapids meeting to consider what to do next.

“We need to get the word out about poverty in our area,” said Emig.

“Too often, people around any area, including our own county, simply tend to avoid recognizing that poverty exists.

“We need to create a better awareness of a situation that we all know is there, but that we may have wanted to ignore.”

The local PRI group plan to develop a poverty simulation program in the near future — a mock day-in-the-life situation for people having contact with area residents that allows them to, in some small way, feel how frustrating poverty can be.

“We also plan to bring nationally recognized speakers into our area to address groups and organizations on the issue of poverty and poverty reduction efforts,” said Emig.

“This we hope to do by the end of summer.

“We think it is important to educate people about poverty and then be better able to create poverty reduction programs at a local level.

“If we are going to take action — any action — we want it to be meaningful.”

Emig and members of his group are painfully aware that they will never eradicate poverty — in Osceola County or anywhere else for that matter.

They hope to take simple, basic steps in dealing with the situation.

“We simply want to create awareness,” he said. “We hope to help folks develop more sensitivity to the situation.

“We’d like to see a few action steps taken — perhaps help individuals or groups fill some of the gaps in reaching out to neighbors in need.

“We’d like to see programs grow in our county that help people living in poverty gain the tools they need to pull themselves out of a life of poverty.

“We’d like to see our county — both the private and public sectors - better reach out to those in need of a hand up, not just a hand out.”