“What Can Be Done About Poverty?” by Kim Juhas (click title to comment)

     During the month of May, the Cleveland Leadership Center hosted a four part Civic Engagement Boot Camp series designed to highlight the issues that those living in poverty face, and some of the current programs in the city helping to alleviate some of the effects of poverty.  Thanks to  scholarships from the Center for Health Equity Engagement Education and Research, the Research Scholars were able to attend one of the days, and I attended the Housing and Employment Boot Camp. 

            We started at 7:00 am at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue, where we served breakfast to the men, and then listened to short, information-packed presentations by several experts on poverty in the Cleveland area.  We then visited Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s Central Kitchen and Metal Works, two programs designed to provide employment for people coming out of prison. 

            Next, we visited two places that have the intention of revitalizing the Lower Kinsman area—Green City Growers and the Bridgeport Cafe.  Green City Growers is a state of the art hydroponic greenhouse that supplies lettuces, greens, and herbs to the area, and the Bridgeport Cafe is a beautiful cafe that serves delicious, healthy food at low cost, or through the EBT card.   Both places are designed to give back to the community by employing its members.   

            For the remainder of the day, we continued to visit places that help others through housing and employment.  The Economic Community Development Institute and the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen give opportunities to entrepreneurs who may not otherwise have the ability to start a small business.  The former lends money to those who cannot secure loans from banks, and the latter provides a commercial kitchen for people to rent by the hour.  Winton Place is a supportive permanent housing unit for those with a history of chronic homelessness, and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization provides affordable housing to those who meet certain income guidelines, and some of this housing is provided on a rent-to-own basis.  Habitat for Humanity ReStore sells new and gently used furniture, home accessories, building materials, and appliances at a low cost.

            Our final stop was the observation deck of the Terminal Tower.  We started the day at the shelter with men who have so little, including little acknowledgment by the general public, and we ended up overlooking a gorgeous view of the city.  It is is striking how the same city can be seen from two completely different points of view.  I think some only see the global birds-eye view, and don’t realize how many people are struggling to make ends meet right here in our city.  The good news is that there are programs and initiatives like the ones highlighted here, working to make a positive impact on poverty.  The problem is, many do not know about them, and the current programming is not enough. 

            For me, the most powerful underlying theme of the day was the great opportunity for change through networking and sharing of knowledge.   When the right people meet and have a chance to talk, great things can happen that require much less effort than if the organization or person assigned with the task were to do it alone.   For example, one of the places we visited asked for suggestions with an employment issue.  With the wide range of experience of boot camp attendees, the employer was able to get many suggestions for solutions from several points of view, from both the non-profit and the for-profit world.  Other attendees were able to suggest businesses or organizations to which a business could supply its product.

            While the day got me motivated to work for change, what really solidified that excitement was the final event where all participants from the four days convened and brainstormed about solutions and partnerships that can be made to reduce poverty.  We had some great ideas, and it reinforced  Margaret Mead’s famous quote.   “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

            If you would like to make a difference, it can be something as simple as supporting these initiatives.  For example, if you are near 7201 Kinsman, stop in the Bridgeport Cafe for coffee, lunch or dinner, or if you need a bike rack or know a business that needs one, contact Metal Works.  If you know any programs or initiatives that are working to empower the poor, spread the word in the comment box below.  The only way we can support initiatives trying to make a difference is if we know they exist.

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