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Local efforts work to turn tide on poverty
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Neshoba and Lauderdale counties are participating in a pilot program aimed at turning the tide on poverty by recruiting community members to work together on unique solutions.
“Turning the Tide on Poverty” is an initiative of the Southern Rural Development Center that works in 13 Southern states and is headquartered at Mississippi State University. The initiative has identified sites in five of the region’s states for the pilot programs.
Lauderdale and Neshoba are two of eight counties and parishes chosen in five states to participate in the initiative. Since August, community planning teams have been working to prepare for the upcoming Study Circles series and to recruit participants.
“The Study Circles approach is a community decision-making process that can be used to address any community issue,” said Rachel Welborn, SRDC program manager. “This approach allows an entire community to follow a guided process leading to solutions that fit its own needs and interests.”
Welborn said the Study Circles approach empowers communities to build on their own strengths and abilities to find a direction for change that has high community support.
“Study Circles encourage community members to share their voices around a set topic,” Welborn said. “The process itself fosters civic-minded communities by encouraging people to take an active role in community problem-solving.”
Susan Cosgrove, Mississippi State University Extension Service family resource management area agent and coordinator for the Mississippi pilot sites, said the Neshoba County efforts will begin the last week of January, and the Lauderdale County efforts will begin the first week of February.
“Each county already has a core planning group,” Cosgrove said. “We are about to start a big media campaign to recruit community members to work with us on this project.
“We want the entire face of the community represented in the study circle. We want people from all socioeconomic groups, young adults to retirees, unemployed, underemployed, self-employed, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, elected officials, pastors, teachers, homemakers and more to participate,” Cosgrove said.
These two Mississippi counties were chosen for their high rates of poverty and the significant problems associated with populations living in poverty.
“The most significant problem in both counties is the high percentage of households in poverty with no husband present. These have a higher poverty rate than those households with married couples or those headed by a male,” Cosgrove said. “In both counties, the under-5 age group has the most individuals living in poverty. In both counties, the average household income is below the state average, which is very much below the national household income average.”
Study Circles meet once a week in two-hour sessions for five weeks of guided conversations.
The goal of the Study Circles is to develop a clear community action plan that will help address the issue of poverty. All types of volunteers from each community are needed to make the process successful.