The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative at United Way was a key component when Governor Andrew Cuomo awarded $500 million to the Finger Lakes Region last fall through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
Statistically, Rochester is one of the nation’s poorest cities, with 56 percent childhood poverty.
Poverty is personal for the Rev. Marlowe Washington of the Parsells Ave. Community Church. “I was born in it,” he said. “Didn’t know it at the time.” His young world was welfare and food stamps. “If I didn’t have rice with milk, it was rice with eggs.”
Washington lost his father, but his mother, and the church, helped him graduate from college and rise up. His life’s calling is to help others break free from poverty. “This is a demon,” he said of poverty.
Poverty is a demon that has taken hold of our region. Dr. Leonard Brock says approximately 80,000 people make up the working poor and non-working poor in Monroe County. He is the Director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative at United Way. “One of the things that we learned from previous efforts is that we try to do too much all at once, and essentially we do nothing,” said Dr. Brock.
With Dr. Brock and the United Way as stewards, this State funded initiative will focus first on two Rochester neighborhoods – Marketview Heights with a slice of CONEA, and the Beechwood EMMA Neighborhood. “The two neighborhoods that have the biggest fire, that’s closest to water,” said Dr. Brock. In those neighborhoods the emphasis will be on adult mentoring, early childhood support, and building a system that can be successfully replicated elsewhere.
Kyle Crandall is the President of the Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition. He sees four anti-poverty keys – housing, economic development, education and health & wellness. “You can change the infrastructure,” he noted. “But if the hearts of the people don’t change, and if people’s lives don’t change, you’re not really going to see that sort of impact.”
The initiative faces many challenges, including getting so many community collaborators all on the same page. Fran Weisberg is the President & CEO of the United Way of Greater Rochester. She is working hand-in-hand with Dr. Brock. “I have never seen everybody as committed to making the change,” Weisberg said of the community.
The short term goal is to see progress in Beechwood and Marketview Heights. The 15 year goal is to reduce poverty by 50 percent. “So I know what people say, oh, we’ve had lots of reports as a community, lots of convening, but this is different,” added Weisberg.
“The same resilience we try to build in young people, or people experiencing adverse circumstances, we as a community have to exhibit the same thing, we have to have institutional grit, community grit,” said Dr. Brock.
The first year of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative at United Way in 2015 was a year of planning. Weisber said 2016 will be a year of action. Crandall believes Beechwood ready. “There has to be hope, right?” he asked rhetorically. “And if you look at it from a big picture it can be really overwhelming, but if you start to focus in and really put your efforts into a small area, that’s where I think you can really see some change.”
Washington too is filled with hope. He knows from his own experience what faith and hard work can yield. “Our role is to help reduce poverty to the point of getting you out, never to go back there again.”
For more information about the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative at United Way, click here.