PRI evaluates impact in 2012, plans for 2013

Project Connect, Double Up Food Bucks show results of group’s efforts in past year

 

BIG RAPIDS – As members of the Poverty Reduction Initiative for Mecosta and Osceola counties reflected on the past year and re-evaluated their strategic plan, they examined their basic mission – are we reducing poverty?

While it can be difficult to measure and quantify the exact number of people in poverty or not, group members affirmed that progress is being made to meet needs in the community. The road out of poverty can be a winding one, said Zandrea Boss, a PRI member, and there are many barriers and factors that keep people in the cycle of poverty.

Boss has had personal struggles with poverty, she said, and being able to contribute to PRI as an “expert” on the topic is a sign of her success.

Chastity Holmquist, parent liasion for the Great Start Readiness Collaborative, led PRI members in reviewing their 2012 strategic plan and making adjustments for 2013.

“We wanted to update it to create more focused efforts and better engage our members,” Holmquist said.

In the past year, PRI supported numerous local efforts related to addressing poverty and organized events of its own. Among the group’s greatest accomplishments in 2012, Holmquist said, was Project Connect – the first local event of its type offering free on-site services to families – and partnering in Double Up Food Bucks – a program that allowed Bridge Card users to double their benefits when spent at the local farmers market.

“It’s good to see a lot of community members engaged in efforts to reduce poverty,” Holmquist said. “We want to focus on getting real-life assessment of how poverty is affecting families and individuals so we can focus on removing barriers to getting out of poverty.”

For 2013, PRI has four main goals:

  • Involve individuals facing the challenges of poverty and value their expert observations and opinions.
  • Identify resources and help people in need connect with them.
  • Quantify and track available poverty statistics to raise community awareness.
  • Implement programmatic solutions based on identified needs in the community.

In the upcoming year, an action team will form to focus on promoting PRI in the community with the hopes of reaching more people willing to share their personal experiences accessing available benefits.

The 2-1-1 call center now available for Mecosta, Osceola, Newaygo, Oceana, Mason and Lake counties has filled an important role in connecting people with local resources. PRI will use data from 2-1-1 to continue to track unmet needs and common requests.

From April to September, the most common requests in Mecosta County were for help paying electric bills, specific information on agencies, food pantries and assistance paying for gas, said Linda Myers, resource specialist for 2-1-1 in Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties. In Osceola County, the most common requests were for home rental information, community clinics, specific information on agencies and electricity assistance.

Previously, PRI had discussed appointing “navigators” to help individuals secure the assistance they need from various agencies. 2-1-1 operators have helped fill that void, said Karen Roy, director of general education for the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

“We just don’t have that capacity right now (to appoint navigators), but I think it’s nice to keep it on our radar,” she said.

PRI will begin planning the second-annual Project Connect in January. The event took six months to plan, execute and then evaluate this year, Holmquist said, and it is an important part of PRI’s outreach.

“(Project Connect) really shifted our focus,” she said. “We wanted to go back to the 2012 strategic plan to look at where we can refocus.”

PRI will meet again at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25, 2013, at the MOISD Resource Center.

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